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Medford schools adopt new math curriculum

MEDFORD — The Medford School District has adopted a new math curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade to better meet new state academic standards and help students catch up with their peers in other countries.

The Bridges Math curriculum by the Portland-based Math Learning Center teaches all of Oregon's new math standards, which are designed to help students master algebra by or before the ninth grade, said Medford schools Curriculum Supervisor Debbie Connolly.

The state has based its standards on recommendations by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel appointed by former President George W. Bush to find ways to improve U.S. students' performance in math.

New state high school diploma standards will require that students take three credits of math in 2010 instead of two. By 2014, those math credits must be at algebra I-level or above.

U.S. 10th-graders ranked 23rd in math among the 30 wealthiest nations, according to a 2006 survey by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Program for International Student Assessment. The panel found the nation lagged in part because of public attitudes that math isn't important to daily life and that only those with natural abilities can excel at math.

"What the new standards have done is focus on algebra," Connolly said.

The skills to do algebra are built in the lower grades, she said.

"In order to get ready for algebra in the ninth grade, students need what are called gateway skills in lower grades," Connolly said.

The Bridges materials, which will cost about $350,000 over two years, will be rolled out in the fall in kindergarten through second grade, where the foundation for algebra begins.

The new standards allow for more focus on concepts, allowing students to master skills before they move on to learn new ones, Connolly said.

There used to be 60 math standards every year in elementary grades, and the concepts were repeated every year, which decreased the amount of time students spent on each standard at a given time. The fragmented approach to learning math made it more difficult for students to master skills, Connolly said.

"Now, we have gone to 20 content standards per year but at a much higher level than the old standards," she said. "They have to master the underlying concepts and learn how to apply them before they get to algebra."

Students who are now in kindergarten through second-grade will be tested on Oregon's new math standards, adopted in 2007. Students in higher grades will be tested on a hybrid of new and old standards.

Some districts said it was difficult to find a curriculum that matched all of the new standards. Medford chose Bridges based on research by the Klamath Falls City School District. Klamath Falls piloted several state-approved math curricula options in different elementary schools in its district and found Bridges was the best fit for Oregon standards, said Leigh Ann Arthur, curriculum director for the Klamath Falls City schools.

The Math Learning Center is a small nonprofit organization based in Oregon and specifically built its curriculum to align to Oregon's standards, said Rick Ludeman, chief operating officer for the Math Learning Center. Because academic standards are different in each state, publishers often cater to larger states such as California and Texas, Connolly said.

The state requires that schools adopt new curricula every seven years, but because of a statewide revenue shortfall, the Oregon Department of Education has allowed districts to delay updating curricula for up to two years.

The Medford district's last math textbook adoption was in 1999, Connolly said. The district serves about 12,000 students.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.