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March 7, 2013 School Committee Update

by Erica Plunkett
March 10, 2013

The primary focus of the evening was a presentation by Dr. Sara Ahern; HS Department Leader and Teacher, Anne Connoni; MS Math Curriculum Coordinator, Maria Spina; and PK-5 Math/Science Curriculum Specialist, Pat Rourke and was on the Math Curriculum Review.  This has been a two-year effort and there is no way I can do justice to the scope of this work, and will only summarize it below.  The presentation in its entirety can be found on the website as of Monday, March 11 (, but if this is a particular interest, please tune into replays of the School Committee meeting on HCAT.  It will be time very well spent.

The summary of this review is as follows:

1.      The review was a two-year effort (2011-2013)

2.      Pre-K-12 Committee led the effort

3.      Teachers of Math across the District were also involved

4.      The review started with Professional Development and development of philosophy

5.      A thorough analysis of the curriculum was conducted

6.      The review included some development/revision along the way

7.      The Committee developed a revision plan that included recommendations to guide future development/revision and implementation

As well as curriculum review and improvement across all subjects being a goal of the District’s Strategic Plan, the context of the review revolves around the new Common Core Standards (national standards). The Math Curriculum Review Committee relied on two resources in conducting this work

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principles for School Mathematics 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks for Mathematics, which incorporate the Common Core State Standards, with an emphasis on focus, coherence, clarity and rigor. These standards are:

·         Research and evidence-based

·         Aligned to college and work expectations

·         Rigorous

·         Internationally benchmarked

The context of the review was done, using the Massachusetts DESE transition timeline as a guide, with the goal of 2015 for students to move from MCAS to PARCC (though an official decision has not yet been made). * Please see Did You Know at bottom of article.

The presenters then reviewed topic placement by grade, as well as topic placement in top achieving countries.  This included a review of the mastery of content standards grades PK-8, as well as high school conceptual categories.

Dr. Ahern then reviewed the spiraling of standards in math in all grades. Spiraling, Dr. Ahern noted, is the standard of practice that spiral through all grades and reflect important skills teachers seek to develop in students.  With the new standards, there is a greater expectation of mastery at certain key points.   Students should be able to:

1.      Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them

2.      Reason abstractly and quantitatively

3.      Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others

4.      Model with mathematics

5.      Use appropriate tools strategically

6.      Attend to precision

7.      Look for and make use of structure

8.      Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

The context of the Math Curriculum Review is guided by Holliston’s professional work on Understanding by Design (UbD):

Holliston educators use UbD as a framework for building curriculums

1.      Standards are not the curriculum; they are like the building code for an architect

2.      Architects of curriculum attend to the standards to frame optimal learning experiences

3.      UbD focuses on the long-term educational goals of enduring understandings.

4.      For example, one enduring understanding might be the Big Idea of Pattern and Structure.  Students will understand that observing, describing and analyzing patterns allow us to make predictions and generalizations and discern structures and relationships.

Bringing the discussion more to the school level, PreK-8 progression provides a strong foundation for algebra.  At the Elementary level:

1.      Students will focus on understanding the relationships and connections in whole numbers, fractions, and decimals.

2.      Mastery will be expected in operations and fact fluency

(please note that some areas have completely shifted from elementary to middle school)

At the Middle school level:

1.      Students will focus on rates, ratios, and proportional relationships

2.      There will be expansion of geometric concepts

3.      There will be inclusion of statistics and probability

4.      There will be in-depth study of linearity and functions in Grade 8.

At the High School, curriculum shifts will include:

Algebra 1:

1.      Comparing and contrasting of functions (linear, exponential, and quadratic)

2.      Applying vocabulary to prepare for calculus


1.      Deepening understanding of transformations, congruence, and rigid motion

2.      Proofs and constructions

3.      Connecting algebra and geometry through coordinates

Algebra II and Precalculus:

1.      Trigonometry will be embedded in both (there will no longer be a separate Trig course)

The presenters then went on to more deeply review the Gap Analysis in the current curriculum, comparing standards currently being met to standards new per grade level. Some of the action steps taken since the Gap Analysis completion are:

At the Elementary Level:

2.      Professional Development on content standards and mathematical practices

3.      Moved to enVision MATH (2012)

4.      Made changes to the Report on Student Progress (ROSP) based on domains and cluster headins

5.      Developed assessments to align to ROSP

6.      Organized into data teams to analyze students assessment information and to develop intervention plans based on culminating standards

7.      Developed a consistent mathematics vocabulary PK-5

At the Middle and High Schools:

1.      New units to pilot have been identified or developed

2.      Teachers have attended DESE Professional Development on middle school and high school sequencing and MCAS Transition plans

3.      New textbook options have been investigated

4.      A consistent vocabulary has been developed at the high school

5.      Future sequence of courses for middle and high school has been developed (please see the website for the chart on Samples of Future High School Options.  The takeaway message is that there are now multiple entry points for students to get to Calculus by 12th grade.  There are now opportunities for those students who may struggle with a particular unit or concept to not be left behind in the preparation for calculus in college)

6.      A two-year transition plan has been developed

The presenters went on to review the Curriculum Revision Recommendations at each school level and across the District.  Specifically, the Team recommended the following:

·         Acquire enVision MATH texts for French Immersion

·         Provide additional, targeted interventions for learners struggling with understanding mathematics concepts and tie these interventions to standards.

·         Expand resources and options for students with advanced understandings of mathematical concepts

·         Expand incorporation of technological tools that assist learners with disabilities and ELL students with access to the mathematics curriculum

The Curriculum Review team wrapped up the presentation looking at Assessments and making recommendations.  They did the same with Technology, noting that new standards explicitly expect students to used technology strategically to solve problems.  Lastly, the Team made recommendations for future Professional Development and the best ways to communicate the changes in the curriculum to parents.  The School Committee was then invited to ask questions on the presentation.  Dr. Jackson concluded the presentation, noting that Holliston is at least a year ahead of some districts in this work; others haven’t even begun to explore how PARCC will impact their local curriculums.  Further he remarked how important this presentation was in seeing the complete picture as PK-12 undergoes such big shifts and realignments.  He highlighted how these changes will allow students to grow and develop at different paces, noting the significant advantage the block schedule at the high school provides.   He stated that Holliston students will be well-served by these changes.

Moving on, the Committee waived the third reading of Policy GCF, Staff Hiring, and adopted the new policy.  In a very brief update on FY14, Budget Sub Committee Chair, Lisa Weber informed the Committee that the Budget Sub Committee had instructed Dr. Jackson to bring a revised budget and cut list to the next meeting, noting that revenue increased would not cover a 4.67% increase.  Finally, Dr. Jackson informed the School Committee that he has reconvened an Emergency Response Taskforce, charged with the responsibility to review, and if necessary, modify the Emergency Response Plans of the Holliston Public Schools.  This Committee will be co-chaired by Dr. Jackson and Emergency Management Chief Mike Cassidy.

The next School Committee meeting is March 21.  The next School Committee Office Hours are Thursday, April 4, 8-9 am, At Pejamajo.  As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact any School Committee member or Central Office Administration.  

Kindest regards,

Erica Plunkett

Chair, Holliston School Committee

*Did You Know…that PARCC (Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers) is slated to begin in 2015.  These assessments will replace MCAS in ELA and Math for all students grades 3-11 (MCAS Science will remain):  PARCC questions require higher-order thinking skills, encompass both performance-mid-year- and summative assessments, and are to be delivered on-line.


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