Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report - S18
November 12, 2014
Making Sense of the Math: The Common Core in Practice > www.edweek.org/go/math-report
High Schools Turn to 'Integrated' Math
face growing pains
By Madeline Will
ong a staple of the high school curriculum, the mathematics-course sequence of Algebra 1, geometry, and
Algebra 2 is facing a budding challenge as schools
transition to the Common Core State Standards.
Students at a small but growing number of high
schools across the country are moving toward an
integrated-mathematics pathway, in which they learn a blend
of topics like algebra, geometry, and statistics each year. Common internationally, the integrated sequence is meant to take
math learning out of silos and teach students how to bridge
connections among topics. There are three levels of integrated
math, and students typically take the classes from freshman
to junior year.
In the United States, integrated math has been in use
sporadically since the 1990s. But the concept has gained
ground recently, with the common core serving as a catalyst.
In Appendix A of the common standards for mathematics,
both a traditional and an integrated pathway are laid out as
viable progressions to convey the standards.
That made it easier for school districts and even some states
PATHWAYS IN THE
The Common Core State Standards lay out two
pathways for teaching math in high school-the
traditional Algebra 1-geometry-Algebra 2 sequence
and an integrated sequence. The integrated math
sequence blends the topics of algebra, geometry,
probability, and statistics.
to reflect on their curriculum and consider the integrated-math
approach, said Carrie Heath Phillips, the program director for
the common core at the Washington-based Council of Chief
State School Officers.
The majority of states leave the decision to individual districts. But three states-North Carolina, West Virginia, and
Utah-have recently mandated that all public high schools
teach only integrated math. A handful of other states, including Arkansas and Florida, took the opposite approach, requiring a traditional pathway. Georgia, meanwhile, has required
an integrated-math sequence since 2008, but, state officials
say, has transitioned to more of a hybrid model recently.
The common core's inclusion of the integrated-math approach opened the door to more districts implementing integrated courses, Tom Loveless, a nonresident senior fellow at
the Washington-based Brookings Institution's Brown Center
on Education Policy, wrote in an essay this summer.
"Neutrality, in this case, is a tacit endorsement. And it carries significant consequences for implementation," Mr. Loveless wrote. "State, district, and school administrators who
have long wished and waited for an integrated sequence of
math courses are licensed to push this approach as a 'reform'
sanctioned by the ccss."
A Focus on Connections
Switching to integrated math poses resource and logistical
challenges for schools and has plenty of detractors, including
among math teachers. But for some educators, the introduction of the common core provided an opportune moment to
make significant changes to the high school curriculum.
As Edward Logiudice, the math-department chairman at
North Middlesex Regional High School in Townsend, Mass., put
it: "If we stayed with a traditional pathway, we'd have to rewrite
curriculum anyway to fit the new standards. The more we discussed it, and the more we looked at the standards, it just made
sense for us to go to integrated."
For some, the notion that making a significant change to
course structure might give the new standards some added
leverage was also a factor.
"We knew that the common core was very different, and we
were afraid that if we didn't make some kind of statement
about the differences, people would just do what they always
did," said Diana Suddreth, the interim director of teaching and
learning at the Utah education department.
Integrated math has growing support in the mathematicseducation community. A study published in the Journal for
Research in Mathematics Education last year tracked students
over three years and found that those who were being taught
with an integrated-math curriculum outperformed their counterparts who were in a traditional sequence.
"We can't say why, [but] the fact that they did [perform better] is an indication that curriculum matters," said James E.
Tarr, a professor of mathematics education at the University
of Missouri, in Columbia, and one of the study's authors. "Since
our results have come out, I have heard from people throughout the world who did not find our results to be surprising."
Many countries-including those whose students outperform the United States in international assessments-use an
integrated-mathematics sequence at the secondary level. And
many American teachers and administrators who have transitioned to a combined-math pathway say they have seen benefits.
One of the most common arguments for integrated math is that
it doesn't make sense to teach the subject in silos, since in realworld applications, math topics are not neatly segmented.
"The advantage of integrated math is that it kind of blends
those math topics together," said Gina Ziccardi, the assistant
superintendent for student learning at Community High
School District 99 in Downers Grove, Ill., which is transitioning
to an integrated-math curriculum. "It focuses on these connections instead of isolating [topics]."
Paul Stevenson, the math-department chairman at Downers
Grove South High School in District 99, taught a level 1 integrated-math class last year after decades of teaching traditional
math sequences. He said that, after some initial adjustment problems, he saw an improvement in his students' learning.
"Students rose to the level of expectation we had for them,
by and large," he said. "They were doing much deeper thinking
about practices and problems than even students we had in our
[traditional math] program three years advance of them."
Although integrated math predates the common core, educators say it reflects the standards' emphasis on building conceptual understanding and making connections across mathematical expressions.
'Pushback From Stakeholders'
Typical outside U.S.
Typical in U.S.
SOURCE: Common Core State Standards
Courses in higher-level
quantitative reasoning, or
courses designed for careertechnical programs of study.
Currently, "only a few math majors, maybe, make sense out of
the mathematics, and that's what we want for all students," said
LuAnn Malik, the coordinator of mathematics for K-12 in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district, in North Carolina. "Most people hate
math because they don't understand it and [think] it's just a bunch
of procedures, and I think we need to change that as a society."
In addition, instead of limiting a topic to one or two years in
high school, an integrated-math pathway allows teachers to
reinforce those math skills over time, said Diane J. Briars, the
president of the Reston, Va.-based National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
But not everyone is sold on the idea of moving away from the
venerable Algebra 1-geometry-Algebra 2 approach.
"Integrated mathematics, at least in this country, is somewhat
of a controversy," the University of Missouri's Mr. Tarr said. "It's
bucking tradition-more than a hundred years of tradition. Certainly when you try to change things in what is seen as in a
dramatic way, there's pushback from a lot of stakeholders."
Parents, for example, have been vocal critics of integrated
math, according to educators in several districts that have
made the switch. They worry that colleges or scholarship programs won't accept integrated-math credits on a transcript
(though most, if not all, do), and they balk at the unfamiliarity
of the textbooks and problems their children are bringing home.
"The fear of a lot of parents is that kids won't be adequately
prepared for calculus or college math," the Brookings Institution's Mr. Loveless said in an interview. "The fear comes
from the basic idea that there's the potential for topics to slip
through the cracks [in an integrated-math approach]."
Mr. Loveless said it's too early to see how effective the integrated math is compared with the traditional sequence, since
in school districts that are newly transitioning, there aren't
Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report
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