Questions are raised about the conventional practice of grouping students by mathematics ability.  

What about students who take longer to warm up to math? What are the best metrics for ability? What about students who will work to the level of students around them?

The new state math curriculum continues the grouping practice, but would change the way it’s done in Ridgefield. Teachers enthusiastic about the new plan spent about an hour and a half Monday night ensuring skeptical school board members that it was an improvement.

Perhaps most significantly, the new curriculum, called Common Core, would move the “identification year” to sixth grade from fifth. Currently, fifth grade teachers in elementary schools make placement recommendations to the middle school.

That means sixth graders would not be broken up by ability but would be kept at the same pace.

Some board members wondered whether that would put too much of a burden on teachers or frustrate students who are ready to move at a quicker pace.

High school Math Department Chair Lorraine Jacques said teacher training, called “professional development,” would be critical. She said sixth grade teachers would have to do more “differentiation” — addressing students’ varying needs — but there are benefits to a more diverse group.

“The students do see the mathematics very different… You want as many diverse ways of seeing and grasping the mathematics,” Ms. Jacques said.

Board  member Irene Burgess, who was among those with concerns about the new system, later said she felt re-assured in part because she felt the identification of students would be more effective.

Continue reading about the common core learning plan for math.

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