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High School Exemplary Integrated Math Program Tops In State (PA)

published: January 31, 2001
posted to site: 02/02/2001

The Greater Philadelphia Secondary Mathematics Project
A Program of the National Science Foundation at La Salle University

High School Exemplary Integrated Math Program Tops In State

January 31, 2001

A Philadelphia suburban high school using a National Science Foundation sponsored integrated high school mathematics curriculum recently deemed exemplary by the United States Department of Education scored tops in Pennsylvania for comprehensive high schools on the state's latest test.

Strath Haven High School in the Wallingford/Swarthmore School District, an affluent Philadelphia suburb, scored 1500 out of 1600 on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) according to official figures recently released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The PSSA test was administered in April 2000. The score was first among all Pennsylvania comprehensive high schools and second overall behind Masterman, a highly selective special admission high school in Philadelphia.

The exemplary curriculum is the Interactive Mathematics Program, or (IMP), a four year college preparatory text which was developed by a team of mathematicians and math educators from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University with funding from the National Science Foundation. IMP conceptually integrates sophisticated statistics and pre-calculus topics with algebra and geometry by embedding these topics in carefully developed large unit problems. To help students solve complex problems independently, IMP utilizes an inquiry-based "math lab" instructional approach.

Strath Haven is one of the first high schools in the nation to have all of its students enrolled in the Interactive Mathematics Program. Honors students typically start IMP in the 8th grade and take calculus by 11th grade. Strath Haven High School also utilizes a block schedule, thus allowing more students to take more hours of math per year. The 2000 PSSA test results reflect the first time all those taking the test were IMP students.

The PSSA, a high stakes test, is given in the spring of the junior year to all high school students across the state of Pennsylvania, including special needs students. Over 250 Strath Haven IMP students, representing a diversity of student ability levels, took the PSSA in 2000. Of the total, over 160 scored in the top quartile while only 9 students scored in the bottom quartile. Strath Haven improved its ranking from the previous year's PSSA scores in 1999 when it was 21st in the state.

To effectively teach IMP, teachers must attend 40 days (240 hours) of intensive training over four years. Regina Keller, who was Strath Haven's math supervisor when IMP was adopted, recalls the dedication of its teachers as vital to student success.

"Six years ago, our math department made a collective decision that we needed to change the way we were teaching if our already successful students were to achieve excellence in understanding, particularly in the context of block scheduling", said Keller. "It is really a compliment to our teachers, who had experienced 90 in-service hours in a middle school mathematics program over the previous four years, to want to undergo four years of additional training so they could learn how to teach in a new way at the high school level. Four years later, all our students are being taught using this integrated approach and our test scores show than even very successful traditional programs can be improved."

Colleges and universities want high school students who are well grounded in basic algebra and geometry according to Dr. Edward Wolff, Chair of the Mathematics and Computer Science Department at Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College).

"Knowing both efficient methods of solving routine problems and understanding core mathematical ideas are essential for multi-step open-ended problems, which are more typical of college level material and the real world," said Wolff. "I have found IMP to be a high powered curriculum when properly taught that can challenge the best students. At the same time, IMP also can engage the less mathematically inclined with important and useful mathematical ideas and techniques."

Dr. Wolff piloted the IMP curriculum when it was first being field tested in 1993 at Central High School in Philadelphia. Later, Wolff provided training to all of Strath Haven's math teachers one of whom was Barbara Stankus, now a veteran IMP teacher and mentor.

"Math teachers have always had the goal of getting their students to be independent thinkers and problem solvers," said Stankus. "This is a curriculum that truly helps us achieve that goal. My students do not seem paralyzed when they encounter 'word problems'. They are not hampered in their search for the right method. They just attack the problem with better strategies and with an understanding of the concepts."

Strath Haven's teachers are leaders in a growing number of math teachers across the Philadelphia area who have begun utilizing nationally validated exemplary curricula. The Greater Philadelphia Secondary Mathematics Project, (GPSMP), located at La Salle University is a five year effort, funded with a grant from the National Science Foundation, to provide high quality professional development and mentoring to teachers in the use of these integrated texts. Currently 700 math teachers and 100 schools are participating in training.

"Interest in systemic change to increase student achievement in mathematics is exploding in the Greater Philadelphia area," said F. Joseph Merlino, GPSMP Project Director. "In the past 2 years alone, we have conducted over 500 days of in-services for area schools. With intensive professional development, combined with strong administrative support, these new integrated curricula can foster optimal growth in students' intellectual development, as well as teach students important communication, social and work-related skills necessary for the global knowledge-based economy" said Merlino.

Other NSF sponsored high school curricula include Contemporary Mathematics in Context (CORE-Plus) and Math Connections. In addition, there are various NSF sponsored integrated middle school curricula such Mathscape, Math in Context, (MiC), Connected Mathematics Program (CMP) and MathThematics.