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Common Core seriously impacting middle school student performance in math

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POTSDAM - As the Potsdam Central School District Board of Education discussed the Common Core Tuesday night, it was revealed that 31 percent of the district’s fifth graders and 32 percent of its seventh graders are failing math at this point in the school year.

Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said he’s expecting those scores to improve as the year goes on, noting the adjustment to the Common Core, and the state-mandated curriculum that came with it hasn’t been easy for anyone.

“I suspect this is going to get better in time. I would like to see the second and third quarter compared to the first quarter,” he said.

Board of education member Wade A. Davis said he’s troubled by the numbers.

“That tells me that 31 percent of fifth graders are not mastering the concepts. How are we going to go back so they can master the concepts?” he asked, noting that many of the district’s teachers are already behind schedule with where the state says they should be at this point in the year related to the curriculum.

Teacher Center Director Cassidy Mattimore said the state has recently provided teachers with a grid containing the entire’s years worth of curriculum that also highlights which areas of study are the most important.

“If we don’t get to module eight this year, it’s not the end of the world, but with the gaps we have this year it could make up some time,” she said. “When teachers saw this it was a huge relief.”

Ms. Mattimore agreed that skipping over portions of the curriculum isn’t ideal, and she’s optimistic that as time goes on teachers will be able to complete an entire year’s worth of modules.

“In an ideal situation we would cover all of this. Three years down the road we might not have these gaps,” she said.

Noting that he feels this would only handicap students heading into the next school year, Mr. Davis called that approach “kicking the can down the road.”

Board President Christopher C. Cowen said he was troubled by the numbers, which also showed 13 percent of sixth graders and 12.5 percent of eighth graders are failing math.

“These are very alarming statistics,” he said, noting he would like to see how the district’s numbers compare to other schools across the state.

“If this is what everybody else is doing and we’re on par, that’s great, but not really,” he said, adding after conversations he’s had with fifth-grade teachers he had an idea these numbers were coming.

“Fifth-grade teachers were very adamant that they were having a lot of trouble and there were going to be a lot of failures,” Mr. Cowen said. “All I know is we have 31 percent failing, and there could be a lot of reasons why.”

While there seems to be a higher percentage of students struggling, board member Frederick C. Stone, Jr., asked how the district’s top students were handling the change.

“Are the 10 percent still in the 90 and above range or has that downshifted to the 85 and above range?” he asked.

Middle school Principal Mark Bennett said it was too early in the year to answer that question.

“It’s too early to tell. We don’t have enough of that data,” he said. “We’re only 10 weeks in.”

Mr. Cowen then asked administrators what their expectations were for the teachers in their building.

“I’m personally struggling with it,” Mr. Bennett replied. “When you expose students to something and they at least see it there is some benefit, but you do want them to master it. If they don’t master it, that’s where you get the gaps and it builds up.”

Board member Rachel Wallace wondered whether the new curriculum was hurting other subjects, as well.

“Yes, they’re not doing writing,” he said. “There just isn’t the time for it.”

Time was one of the things also discussed, with Superintendent Patrick Brady noting the district is looking at ways of possibly funding professional development or planning time outside of the regular school day.

Mr. Jenne though said he has seen improvement from teachers and the students as the year has progressed.

“I’m going to say by next year, if not the year after, things will be a lot better,” he said. “We’ll get through this. Our kids have already risen to a whole new level.”

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