By C. Julia Nelson
cjnelson@reporternewspapers.net

It all adds up in the end.

In light of the 2006 Georgia Performance Standards changes, Fulton County Schools are taking steps to ensure continuous student achievement, despite new heightened expectations, particularly in mathematics at all levels.

Newly appointed Superintendent Dr. Cindy Loe presented updated policies for the Continuous Achievement framework at the May 15 Fulton County Board of Education meeting. (Results from that meeting were not available when the Reporter Newspapers went to press.)

“Continuous Achievement is really about meeting students where they are and taking them beyond,” she said at the April 17 board meeting. “One of the challenges of the implementation of the state’s Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) curriculum and the associated testing programs is that we want our students to make sure they’re achieving the best they possibly can. We believe that we can meet students where they are by providing advanced and accelerated curriculum that would begin in K-1.”

Continuous Achievement is a framework for advancement within the reading and language arts and mathematics curriculum. The policies would allow that as Fulton County Schools transition into an integrated mathematics curriculum in accordance with GPS at the high school level, elementary and middle school curriculum would be revised to align with the changes at the high school level.

Dist. 3 board member Gail Dean said the board has been working to develop a curriculum formula to keep students on track and on time.

“When the state changed the high school requirements, Fulton County students… would be two years behind,” Dean said. “That is totally unacceptable.”

The biggest problem the district ran into was transitioning current and forthcoming eighth-grade students into the new curriculum having the background and preparatory work for the previous curriculum.

“We figured out how to move them ahead one year,” she said. “We’ve been able to take three of the high school courses and condense them into two.”

Eighth-graders will have the option to follow one of three tracts for mathematics: on-level, advanced or accelerated.

Current eighth-graders studying at an advanced level would take accelerated/integrated/advanced algebra honors, which is equivalent to math one and half of math two, as a freshman. Sophomore year would entail accelerated integrated geometry honors – or math two and three. As a junior they would take accelerated integrated pre-calculus honors and then either AP calculus or AP statistics as a senior.

Those out-going eighth-grade students who are learning at regular or core levels will take integrated advanced algebra to start and transition to integrated, but not advanced, classes to continue based on need.

“We want (the students) to be able to move through those groups as is appropriate (to their learning level),” Dr. Loe said. “If the student is performing above grade level, we want to make sure we are challenging them above grade level.”

Next year’s eighth-grade students would begin with at least the advanced algebra honors class to start and follow either the basic or accelerated path of the same classes as previously listed, only a year ahead.

Students, especially transfers, who are already following traditional curriculum will stay on that track through their high school career.

According to www.georgiastandards.org, “the (integrated) curriculum provides more depth in concepts than its predecessor, presents real and relevant tasks, and remains strong in computational skills.” Student progress will be monitored with periodic benchmark, pre and post-tests.

“We’re taking the basics of what the state says has to be taught … and on top of that we’re running our traditional algebra and geometry,” Dean said. “We’ve gotten a waiver to teach in eighth grade, the ninth-grade math.”

Elliott Kinberg, a math teacher at Elkins Middle School said the curriculum is great for advanced learners, but students who work at or below grade level have been struggling with the new requirements.

“Connected (integrated) math is far superior then what we were doing before for the advanced kids,” Kinberg said. “It’s a struggle for on level and below level learners; they are having more trouble.”

In an effort to accommodate all students, part of the Continuous Achievement policies includes the adoption of new textbooks to ease the transition.

The cost to the district to purchase additional textbooks to accommodate the new standards is slightly less than $1.6 million and revisions to the K-8 curriculum will be implemented in the 2008-09 academic year.

Remediation courses will also be made available to struggling students based on CRCT test results.

“In elementary, we’re trying to get back to a Continuous Achievement model,” Dean said.

Under this framework, students in grades K-1 will develop basic skills and concepts. Advanced placement options will be considered for each student in the second semester of first grade. Second grade will be the first year for on-level, advanced or accelerated placement according to performance and teacher recommendations.

Students in middle school will have the opportunity to advance based on their learning capabilities in mathematics or reading/language arts depending on previous performance and further recommendations.

As this is the first year for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students to experience the revised GPS math courses, CRCT results are not yet available however middle school students across the state struggled in the last year with the new expectations, according to Dean.

Fulton County is hoping to mitigate that problem by implementing the new textbooks and expanding the math curriculum earlier.