New math program coming to Amherst elementary schools

  • Children board buses Tuesday at Wildwood School in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2022 8:48:16 AM
Modified: 1/18/2022 8:47:11 AM

AMHERST — A new mathematics program for kindergartners through fifth graders, to be aligned with what students learn at the secondary schools and which will serve to promote equity, will soon be piloted at Amherst’s three elementary schools.

Mary Kiely, interim coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, who is leading the initiative with Stephanie Joyce, the Title 1 District coordinator, told the School Committee this week that persistent opportunity gaps, evident from kindergarten through high school, are a concern with the current mathematics curriculum.

While Everyday Math has been used since fall 2012, replacing Investigations following disappointing scores by Amherst students in the MCAS standardized tests, Kiely said not all classes have this curriculum, with some instead using teacher-created materials.

“Students are getting very disparate experiences, and that really doesn’t support excellent math learning,” Kiely said.

The 21-member Math Review Team spent the fall reviewing four curricula and will soon narrow that to two finalists, with six weeks of piloting those in selected classrooms to see how well they fit with the district math vision. The vision calls for the new curriculum to be mathematically rich, uphold equity and access, facilitate data-informed teaching and learning, be usable and support teacher growth.

The three remaining programs under consideration are Eureka Math Squared, a reworking of an existing curriculum that Kiely said was criticized for not having good teacher usability and student access; Illustrative Mathematics, or IM, which she said has been well regarded for middle school math; and i-Ready, which she observes has received top ratings.

The final decision will be made by the School Committee in the spring, following a recommendation given to Superintendent Michael Morris.

There is expected to be at least a $110,000 cost in the first year to pay to the curriculum company, and expenses for training. Kiely said the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Accelerating Mathematics Instruction for Students, could cover those costs.

School Committee members appeared ready to give the go-ahead once the piloting is done.

“I hope that we can develop students who grow up to be adults not afraid of math,” said committee member Jennifer Shiao.

Member Ben Herrington said cultural and racial representation is important in the new curriculum, but added that he wants to see the math team get feedback from students of varying backgrounds before a recommendation is made.

Irv Rhodes said parents should know what the outcomes of the new curriculum are for their students, such as what they should know and be able to demonstrate at the end of the first year. He added that he is leery of using the term “culturally responsive” in identifying the new program because it could compromise and water down the curriculum, and shortchange the diverse student body.

Kiely assured him that a rigorous curriculum that will also promote equity is what is needed.

“Having a first-rate curriculum that we can put in place in schools is equity work — that’s what it is first and foremost,” Kiely said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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