Wichita secondary schools to get new math curriculum

Hamilton Middle School teacher Melinda Mutuku works with Nayely Marquez, left, and Joseph Maldonado on Tuesday afternoon on a math project. The students have been using the new Carnegie Learning math curriculum that was adopted by the USD 259 School Board on Monday night. (March 14, 2017)
Hamilton Middle School teacher Melinda Mutuku works with Nayely Marquez, left, and Joseph Maldonado on Tuesday afternoon on a math project. The students have been using the new Carnegie Learning math curriculum that was adopted by the USD 259 School Board on Monday night. (March 14, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

A new math curriculum for Wichita middle school and high school students will focus more closely on Common Core-aligned standards and link with what students are learning in elementary school, district officials say.

The Wichita school board this week approved a seven-year, $4 million deal with Carnegie Learning for its core secondary math curriculum.

The move comes as Wichita faces dismal state test scores in math, with students continuing to perform below their peers across the state.

Carnegie Learning will replace the Agile Mind math curriculum in high schools and, in middle schools, what one board member described as a “patchwork quilt” of textbooks and other materials.

“You hear ‘Every other week, my son brings home another piece from another book’ as (teachers) try to make it all work together,” said board member Joy Eakins.

“I think one of the strengths of this system is that there’s one book. … And I love that students can take their books home.”

The Carnegie curriculum features “consumable,” soft-cover textbooks that students can write in – like a textbook and workbook in one, said Tiffinie Irving, assistant superintendent of learning services. It also features online resources such as tutorials for students and lesson-plan ideas for teachers.

“There was one curriculum that stood out amongst all the others,” Irving told board members. “It was just overwhelming in the comments from our teachers. They spoke very highly of it.”

The Carnegie curriculum was one of four tested in Wichita classrooms beginning last spring. Twenty-six middle-school teachers and 32 high-school teachers participated, and about 90 percent of them said they preferred Carnegie over the others, including the district’s current math curriculum, Irving said.

The new curriculum will launch in the fall for most Wichita sixth- through 12th-graders. Upper-level math courses – such as Advanced Placement calculus, statistics and college algebra – will continue using their current course materials.

Irving said Carnegie will link more seamlessly with Engage New York, a math curriculum launched this past fall at Wichita elementary schools.

Dismal test scores

In 2016, about 41 percent of Wichita students scored below grade level in math on the Kansas assessment test, compared with 26 percent statewide.

In Wichita high schools, more than half of students scored at Level 1 – the bottom-most score – in math.

During a recent report to board members, Irving said the district’s math curriculum had not kept pace with more rigorous tests and higher standards implemented in recent years. The new Carnegie curriculum will give Wichita a fully Common Core-aligned plan from pre-kindergarten through graduation.

The program’s $4 million price tag is “comparable to other programs,” Irving said. It includes all course materials, teacher training and access to online resources.

After the board’s vote Monday, superintendent John Allison said he felt “very comfortable as we move forward with our students’ progression.”

“It’s not easy, and it doesn’t stop now,” he said.

Praise from teachers

Some Wichita teachers who tested the Carnegie curriculum said they were happy the school board approved the contract.

“I absolutely love it,” said Melinda Mutuku, a math teacher at Hamilton Middle School. “It’s engaging, it’s rigorous, and it really makes the kids think conceptually about what they’re doing.”

On Tuesday, Mutuku’s seventh-graders used Carnegie materials for a lesson on probability. The students flipped coins to simulate the probability of a family having girls or boys, then used their results to construct a probability model.

“What is the experimental probability that a family with three children has three girls?” the teacher asked. “And remember to write your answer in a complete sentence.”

Mutuku said the new curriculum is “a relief” after years of piecing together math lessons from old textbooks, workbooks and online resources, trying to match coursework to the new Common Core standards.

“Earlier this year, there was a lesson on factoring,” she said. “It’s in the standards, but none of the materials we’ve used have had it in there.’”

Becki Taylor, an East High math teacher who tested the curriculum with her Algebra I and geometry students, said she was impressed with the content and materials.

“If something is really important, it will have a big box around it” to draw students’ attention, Taylor said. “It’s not just three pages of notes and three pages of problems.”

She said Carnegie’s online resource, called “MATHia X,” could help students struggling with specific math concepts in class or those just wanting additional practice at home.

Rolling it out

Irving said the new curriculum will kick off with programs for teachers at an in-service day next month and optional professional development over the summer.

After that, the district plans to introduce it to parents with workshops or other special events.

“It’s important that our families know how they can access it and what’s available for their kiddos when they’re working at home,” Irving said.

She said the new curriculum is the result of nearly two years of research, vetting and discussions among math teachers and others.

“There has been an extensive amount of time … really researching what our needs are related to math, what we need to begin to do or do differently,” she said.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias