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Tamaqua Area looks at math curriculum overhaul

Published November 10. 2010 05:00PM

The Tamaqua Area School District is in the process of overhauling its mathematics curriculum for grades 7-12.

RuthAnn Gardiner, principal of Tamaqua Area High School, was joined by the school's math faculty in presenting its proposal for the program to the district's education committee Tuesday evening.

According to Gardiner, what is prompting the action is a concern about the school's textbooks, as well as the upcoming Keystone Examinations.

The district currently uses the Saxon Math textbooks. However, because of revisions with its books, the editions in use by Tamaqua Area are no longer being produced.

"We can't buy new versions of the current editions we use," said Gardiner. "Saxon is no longer self-sustaining, because they are not publishing those editions. We have had to purchase used books."

Additionally, the high school has made advances in the Saxon program since it was introduced by the district.

"In 1979, Saxon 76 was used in ninth grade. Now it is used in sixth grade," related Gardiner.

Gardiner also said the new editions of Saxon does not use the intergrated approach recommended by Race To The Top. She also mentioned that Saxon's new Geometry text was created from the former Algebra II, which would mean purchasing those editions. The new Saxon editions also do not include trigonometry.

Gardiner stated that in 2009-2010, 40 high school students failed Algebra I, which the district has found is a contributor to its drop out rate, along with failing Survey of Physics. The district had Algebra A and B courses eliminated due to the introduction of the Keystone Exams.

She noted the way the curriculum currently stands, a student can fail math, including pre-algebra, all the way through middle school and still get into freshman Algebra I. Doubling up on math courses can be a burden, she expressed.

Gardiner said the administration and faculty are recommending Tamaqua Area switch to Pearson Prentice Hall textbooks in place of Saxon.

Several advantage of Prentice Hall were provided. Gardiner said school using it have had its students score 56-81 percent or above on the Math PSSA (Pa. System of School Assessment) tests. Prentice Hall also offered an online component and has Spanish editions available for English as a Second Language students.

Gardiner said Math Department Head Karen Campomizzi contacted other districts to see what they were using for high school math and found Prentice Hall was in use by Blue Mountain, Mahanoy Area, Pine Grove, North Schuylkill, Pottsville and Tri-Valley.

If the district goes with Prentice Hall, it would include texts for Algebra I and II, Geometry, Pre-Calculus (including trigonometry) and Calculus.

The district could decide to do a two-year phase-in with Prentice Hall, beginning next year, or it can do a complete overhaul for grades 7-12.

Gardiner estimated the price tag for a complete switch to Prentice Hall to be $74,000, although she said that was the company's initial offer.

The board was receptive to moving ahead with the switch.

"I am absolutely 100 percent for this," said School Board President Larry A. Wittig. "We should have done it a long time ago. Now, with the Keystones, we don't have a choice."

Superintendent Carol Makuta said the district didn't previously have data on its Saxon use, but has since been able to identify where there are gaps in learning.

"There was an elitist approach to Saxon because the elite kids were doing well," she said.

Makuta asked how much of the Prentice Hall text was online.

"I think Prentice Hall plans in the future to go bookless," said Gardiner. "I get nervous if the Internet goes down. However, they do have online tutorials."

Campomizzi said the online price is the same and does not change the cost of the program.

"We will have to approve the book, ultimately, but for now we can give the okay to the program," said Wittig.

"I'm ready," said Director Aaron Frantz. "It seems like a go," added Director Eileen Meiser.

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