- Associated Press - Saturday, October 1, 2016

FALSINGTON, Pa. (AP) - Pennsbury parent Cheryl Brito believes there are a lot of advantages to district elementary school parents now being able to access their kids’ “Everyday Math 4” textbooks online.

They can help their child review the lesson from earlier in the day before they do their homework, said Brito, whose daughter Phoenixx is a Walt Disney Elementary School fourth-grader. They also can access the online edition if their child forgot their textbook at school and use it to help their kids stay up with their lessons if they are home sick, she said.

Disney parents got a chance to check out the new teaching and learning tool during Back-to-School Night at the Pennsbury school in Tullytown.

“Parents were very excited about it,” said Brito, who serves as Disney’s PTO president. “It looks good. Hopefully, it is a good program.”

The Pennsbury School District invested almost $620,000 earlier this year in new textbooks and online teaching tools that are aligned with the state’s goals and expectations for what students should be able to do at each grade level in math, English language arts and other core subjects in K-12 public schools. The goals and expectations, known as the PA Core Standards, were enacted two years ago.

Providing online access to the textbooks is just one way area public schools are trying to help parents understand the transitions taking place in classrooms, where educators are trying to get students to not only learn how to do something, but be able to demonstrate how they arrived at the answer, Pennsbury Assistant Superintendent Donna Dunar said.

“You don’t have to do the teaching,” Dunar said. “But it is there if you want to see what we are doing.”

Pennsbury’s new online editions of the “Everyday Math 4” (EDM4) textbooks by McGraw- Hill Education, like similar new math programs used by Bristol Township and other neighboring school districts, include audio links to the books’ text, interactive activities and tutorials, Jacqueline Fox, a math consultant for the publishing company, said during a recent teachers’ workshop.

The Pennsbury students will learn mostly by doing the EDM4 interactive activities, both in the classroom and at home, instead of through lectures from their teachers as they had done previously.

“The kids find out how to solve problems on their own and then they come to show their teacher how they do it,” said Gary McManus, who serves as Pennsbury’s K-12 math supervisor.

Previously, Pennsbury elementary teachers used materials aligned with the PA Core Standards by piecemeal, said Kim Walter, the math specialist at Quarry Hill Elementary School. Not anymore. “This is all in one,” Walter said of the EDM4 program. “It makes it easier to have everything right there.”

The Pennsbury teachers are working to incorporate the new tools in the way they deliver their lessons.

“It is going to be a little more of a learning curve,” Amanda D’Amico, a fourth-grade teacher at the district’s Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School, said during the workshop. “It is good that parents will have more access at home. They can be more involved in their kids’ learning, too.”

Brito likes that the online math textbooks include games the kids can play that correlate to their lessons.

“Kids are so technology driven now,” she said. “Now they can sign on and play these games. They are playing a game that is helping them learn.”

To further help parents see what the EDM4 program is all about, Pennsbury elementary schools will host “Family Fun Math Nights” on a regular basis this school year, spokeswoman Ann Langtry said. The first round of events will be staged at Pennsbury schools during American Education Week in November. The events will show parents how they can help their children better understand the new approach to learning.

The Bensalem and Centennial school districts have held similar events in the last few years to give parents a look at what their new, respective elementary math programs entail. Bensalem’s initial meeting “was incredibly well attended,” prompting district officials to schedule a series of Parent Math Nights for the 2016-17 school year to help build on that understanding, said Kathy Leon, assistant to the superintendent.

Bensalem, Bristol Township, Centennial, Morrisville and Pennsbury are among the area districts that have shelled out sometimes thousands - and often hundreds of thousands - of dollars in the last few years to buy new materials aligned with state standards.

For instance, in Morrisville, the school board agreed this past June to buy the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt “GO Math!” program for students in sixth- through eighth-grade to use at an annual cost of $7,066.75.

Bensalem has spent more than $600,000 over the past couple years to buy different math programs from McGraw-Hill Education to use at the elementary and secondary levels, Leon said. “We believe that aligning all of our programs with one company will give us consistency and stability from kindergarten through 12th grade,” she said.

The district uses the company’s My Math program to teach elementary students and its Glencoe Math to teach sixth-grade through pre-Calculus math courses.

“(The Glencoe) program is considered to be the ‘big brother’ to the My Math program,” Leon said.

Bensalem also is using a computer-based math program called ALEKS by McGraw-Hill to provide enrichment and remediation at all levels and the company’s Number Worlds math resource for special education students in kindergarten through eighth-grade.

In addition to the new materials purchased from private companies, area educators said they also use a variety of resources posted at pdesas.org that are provided by the state to help teach to the PA Core.

“We have only used the materials for a year or two, but we are already seeing improvements,” Bristol Township Superintendent Melanie Gehrens said. “Students are learning to engage with complex material and enjoy the collaboration with their peers.”

The signs of improvement in Bristol Township and other area districts are cropping up a year after schools across the state saw significant drops in scores on the 2015 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests that were administered to students in third- through eighth-grades, area administrators said.

Last year marked the first year the standardized tests were aligned to the PA Core Standards and educators said they didn’t have much time to adapt their teachings to the new goals and expectations.

In Bristol Township, the improvements, demonstrated on the 2016 PSSA math and English language arts tests, are in different district elementary schools, Gehrens said.

The scores are broken down into four categories: Basic, Below Basic, Proficient and Advanced. Students who scored in the proficient or advanced range on the tests demonstrated that they are learning at grade level. The combination of proficiency and advanced scores are known as the proficiency rate.

Gehrens declined to specify which schools experienced increased student performance because the state has not released the 2016 PSSA school scores. But she did offer some examples.

Math proficiency rates for one school’s third-grade class increased from 50 percent to 64 percent, the superintendent said. Another school’s third grade experienced a 31 percent increase in its math proficiency rate over the 2015 scores, rising from 35 percent to 66 percent.

The fifth grade at one Bristol Township school saw its proficiency rate improve from 47 percent in 2015 to 62 percent on the PSSA tests administered this past spring, the superintendent said. Another school’s fifth grade math proficiency rate increased from 16 percent last school year to 38 percent on the 2016 test.

The sixth grade at an unnamed Bristol Township school saw its proficiency rate increase from 28 percent to 40 percent and at another school the sixth grade math proficiency rate jumped from 22 percent in 2015 to 60 percent to this past school year, Gehrens said.

Students at the Bristol Township schools also improved their performances on the English language arts 2016 PSSA exams from the year before, she said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education is expected to release the 2016 PSSA results for each school in the state in the next few weeks.

“Districts have experienced growth this year with the PA Core aligned assessment in its second year, but it will take a few more years for everyone to see the results they were accustomed to receiving,” Leon said.

That’s because students in upper grades constantly have to play catch-up, she said, adding it would have been more prudent to roll out the standards in kindergarten and advance each year.

Even so, local educators said they understand the need for the standards, which are based on the national Common Core Standards and aimed at preparing students for college or careers.

The Common Core Standards were developed by combining the best state standards in the United States with the expectations of other high-performing countries and researching what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and life, according to corestandards.org.

“We are preparing students for jobs not yet known to us,” Leon said. “The PA Common Core Standards challenge us to move from the shallow end of the pool where many topics are taught to the deep end of the pool where students go deep into higher-order comprehension skills.”

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Online:

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Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, https://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com


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