Updated: 4:40 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2012
District 135 parents raised concerns about a math pilot program that relies heavily on computers, including how the program works and whether it will be fair for families without ample access to technology.
“I had a lot of questions about it and so did a lot of frustrated parents,” said Marc Sokolowski, during Monday night’s board of education meeting at Century Junior High. “I couldn’t help, and parents were calling each other to find out what to do. I’m a school administrator, and when they called me I couldn’t figure it out.”
The program is called Digits, a Pearson middle grades math program that is intended to bundle lesson planning, instruction, differentiation, homework and assessments together. The program is designed to help students meet the new Common Core Standards, a federal initiative to educate students through more real-world applications of knowledge. Digits is built around such applications, allowing parents to assist with homework via computer and allowing teachers to see how much time each student has spent on each problem.
"Every time they give you a concept they also give you multiple examples of real life application," said D135 Assistant Director of Curriculum Lynn Zeder on Wednesday. "If one student spent five minutes on the problem, and another student spent 20 minutes on the same problem, the teacher knows all of that once the lesson begins."
A meeting was held for parents at Orland Junior High on Sept. 17 to introduce the pilot, with staff from the publisher to answer questions, Zeder said. About 60 parents attended the meeting, and since the 17th discussions have continued to help get parents better acquainted with the system. Another workshop for pilot teachers is scheduled for Friday.
Zeder said positive feedback has also been offered in regard to the pilot.
Sokolowski, who is an assistant principal at Greene School, and his wife Maria both expressed dissatisfaction with the program, also saying that not enough data was provided to justify its effectiveness.
“We’re just saying let’s be transparent about data,” Maria Sokolowski. “How did we get this program implemented? What data did the publishers show them? It should’ve just been an opt in program, given that it takes computers to use it. If you want to do it, do it. But if not, then don’t.”
D135 School Board President John Carmody said that open discussions were held about the program at past committee meetings, and said the district would respond within the week to the Sokolowskis, once administrators had a chance to look into the issues.
“It’s not like school administrators don’t know what they are talking about,” Carmody said. “We went through an exhaustive process on this and had many, many meetings. We don’t want to seem like we’re not listening to parents, but we also want to be fair to administrators. I have to give our people an opportunity to digest this give a response.”
Carmody also said a special board meeting could be held to address concerns about Digits if parents would like.
Marc Sokolowski also pointed out after the meeting that 7th grade students might face scrutiny for their efforts while using the program when Carl Sandburg High School looks at their math grades before they enter the high school.
“If you have a 2010 computer it works great, but it doesn’t if you have anything less than that,” Marc Sokolowski. “It should’ve been a web-based program. Then no one would have a problem. The kids in community who can’t afford computers, what can they do? That can hurt a kid’s self esteem.”
Superintendent Search Update
Twenty people have applied to D135 for the open permanent superintendent position, according to Dennis Soustek. Board members were given packets Monday night with each candidate’s full application, whether he or she meets standards set by the district for the position, if he or she is working on a doctorate or completed one and if he or she was on the Illinois Association of School Board’s list from the previous winter search.
Board members will meet on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. to go over the candidates.
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