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Middle School sights algebra to target Common Core, local strategic plan

Cape Elizabeth Middle School is putting math on a fast track.

Principal Mike Tracy has announced revisions to the school's math curriculum for next year which, by 2015-16, will allow all students to complete at least an introductory algebra course by the end of eighth grade.

"The standards that the students are being held to have increased significantly in rigor," said Ruth Ellen Vaughn, director of curriculum and instruction for Cape Elizabeth schools, who with Principal Tracy presented the revised math sequence to the School Board on April 8, 2014. "We need to make sure that students have the opportunity to be able to meet those graduation standards once they hit high school, but have a strong foundation here," she said.

Also that evening, Vaughn and High School Principal Jeff Shedd presented an overview of requirements that will be expected of high-school graduates as the state moves to the Common Core educational standards.

"We're trying to provide a stronger foundation at the middle-school level to give a springboard up into high school, so students can complete requirements on time, or go further," she said.

Beginning next year, fifth- and sixth-graders will be offered grade-level math classes or an accelerated math class for their grade level. Gone will be the lower-level "control" math. For seventh- and eighth-graders, transition- and rational-math courses will also be discontinued, leaving pre-algebra or algebra for seventh-graders, and pre-algebra, algebra or the more advanced geometry for eighth-graders.

"We need to provide access to higher level math courses for our students as they reach high school," Tracy said.

Support for higher expectations

At the same time, Tracy said, the school is preparing to support that learning with extra teaching and teaching time. A "enrichment block" is being built into the schedule for next year when teachers can reinforce concepts or take students who have mastered the concepts further. There will also be added teacher support in classrooms to work with small groups.

Teachers too will be working harder on math. "It's going to take, I'd say, significant staff development," Tracy said. Vaughn has been working to secure math coaching for teachers and to familiarize them with the standards expected of students.

Without the more targeted math sequence, students may need to double up on math classes to meet the requirements of the proficiency diplomas that will be offered beginning with the Class of 2018, the class that will enter Cape High School as freshmen next year. Even now, students who were not placed in advanced math in middle school had to double up on high-school courses to meet prerequisites for advanced math study.

The revised sequence will put students on a smoother path to graduation under the Common Core, as well as address some of the objectives of Cape Elizabeth schools' strategic plan, Tracy said. Students will also be prepared with the algebra background required for freshman physics. "And and perhaps most importantly it's increasing the rigor and expectations for all of our students," he said.

Related matter: Summer instruction

In a related matter, Superintendent Meredith Nadeau announced a plan to introduce summer instruction to qualifying students this summer. "As we continue to look at the work on our mission and vision, and as some of these proficiency requirements come into focus, we recognize that as a district we have some work to do make sure that all of our students meet those standards," she said. "One of the ways we would like to try to increase and improve outcomes for all of our students is to offer programming to our students in the summer."

She proposed using some undesignated funds for the current year for summer school for students most likely to benefit. "The reality is for some of our students that is the time when they lose some ground," Nadeau said.

Board Chairman John Christie thanked Nadeau for the idea as a means of helping close the "achievement gap" for economically disadvantaged and special-needs students