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Corrective Math in practice

By Guest blogger on Oct 4, 2011 12:50 PM

Last year several contributors wrote about the Corrective Reading and Math scripted curricula. This guest blog post is from Hannah Connor, who observed the implementation of Corrective Math at an Empowerment School in fall 2010.

In fall 2009, the Corrective Math (CM) program was implemented in response to the low math proficiency rates of students at Empowerment Schools. Through my research in fall 2010, I completed extensive observations of CM and core math classrooms at one Empowerment School and interviewed many teachers from schools throughout Philadelphia.

My research found that the CM curriculum in Empowerment Schools is not being utilized in a way that aligns with the implementation conditions of the program, nor with the learning needs of Philadelphia students.

The inaccurate implementation of CM and the poor quality of the program present major difficulties:

  • According to CM guidelines, only students who are already identified as needing remediation should be tested for placement level purposes only. Despite this, all students in Empowerment Schools are given a placement test.

    Instead of using the placement test to determine a student’s level in the CM program, in Empowerment Schools the test was given to all students and was improperly used to determine whether they need CM at all.

    Due to the placement test’s strict guidelines (it only allows one or two errors per section), many students who are proficient in math - and therefore shouldn’t be taking CM classes - got placed in low-level classes of remediation. One teacher told me that only 13 out of 700 students in her school, less than two percent, tested out of CM on the placement test.

    According to the School District website, 40 percent of 8th graders at the school placed advanced or proficient on the PSSA. Furthermore, according to the program instructions, students who show competence are supposed to be retested after two weeks. This is not occurring in Philadelphia schools.

  • Students are not grouped by level. Classes contain students with a wide range of skills.

    Since many students are placed in inaccurate levels of CM, the classes contain students with ranges of knowledge. In order for the repetitive group participation in CM classes to function properly, all students in the class must be at the same level. This variation of student ability is augmented by the large class size. 

    In many Philadelphia classrooms, there are 15-30 students per class, yet the CM teacher’s guide states that there should be no more than 10 students per class. Since the entire class moves at the same pace, in heterogeneous classrooms the lower performing students continue to struggle and the higher performing students do not learn. After each exercise in the workbook, students trade notebooks and as a class review the correct answers. If at least 80 percent of the class correctly answers the questions, the class moves forward to the next set of exercises.

  • The exercise and review process offers no opportunity for differentiated instruction.

    During this process the errors made by students are not re-taught and the teacher never sees which individual problems each student answered incorrectly. There is no opportunity in the curriculum for teachers to re-teach difficult concepts or to monitor whether students are repeating errors. This arrangement means that little individual attention is given to the lowest performing students, those who most need remediation. 

    In one classroom I observed, a student was working diligently and performing well, except he was making an error when adding fractions with unlike denominators. When the class corrected the exercises he could see that his answer was wrong, but he didn’t know why. Two weeks later this student was still making the same error. All that the student needed was a five minute explanation of the small error he was making, but since the teacher doesn’t have an opportunity to review all the answers in each student’s workbook, he wasn’t aware of this recurring mistake.

  • The CM classes do not align with, nor support, what is being taught in the core math classes or tested on the PSSA. 

    The terminology and processes taught in CM do not align with those taught in the core math class. This means that there is little transfer of knowledge between the two classes. The CM class uses different language (i.e. top number and bottom number, instead of numerator and denominator) and teaches different procedures, which make it difficult for students to use their knowledge from the CM class in their core math class.

    Additionally, the skills taught in CM do not help students on the PSSA since they can use calculators for the vast majority of the exam. All of the skills taught in CM can be completed on a calculator. Since students use calculators in their core math class and on the PSSA, the CM skills do not help them perform better in these settings. The PSSA tests students’ ability to apply procedures to various problems, a skill taught in the core math class, but not in CM. Many of the teachers commented that their students performed worse on the PSSA after the implementation of CM since time was taken away from the core math class. In fact, the School District's 2010-2011 PSSA results show that Empowerment Schools actually had less growth on the math sections of the PSSA than the District as a whole last year.

The recent change in School District leadership presents a perfect opportunity for the reasons behind the implementation of CM to be analyzed alongside the needs of Philadelphia students. This process should be public, and teachers must be an integral part of the decision. Research should be completed to show CM’s impact, and other intervention programs must be considered. 

There are many intervention programs, based on research about how students learn, that address basic skills and use strategies to prepare students for success in mathematics. The lowest-performing schools should be supported in advancing their students, and not restricted by the implementation of ineffective programs.

The guest blog section is a place for people, other than our regular cast of bloggers, to share their views. (See our "About Our Blog" note at the top, right.) Got something you'd like to write about? Email us with a pitch, idea, or a completed post.

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Comments (10)

Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on October 4, 2011 2:37 pm

Excellent piece, Congratulations!!

Submitted by Audax (not verified) on October 4, 2011 3:20 pm

Wow, someone who isn't a teacher (or is she?) who is coming out and stating what many of us have said about the program. I had a colleague who used the program when she was teaching in Hawaii and raved about it until she had to "use/do" it here in Philadelphia and went nuts because of how poorly it is done here.

Typical SDP, waste a ton of money on something that might work but find a way to screw it up.

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on October 5, 2011 10:59 am

As the piece mentions, last year we had a series of blog posts on Corrective Reading and Math, and a couple of those were written by current teachers. If you see anything missing from the discussion of scripted curricula, please feel free to submit a guest blog post also.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 4, 2011 5:29 pm

The problem with the district is not poor teaching. It is crazy and lazy administration who implement programs even though know are wrong but someone above them like it that way.

When someone like Mastery takes over a school the teachers are about the same but they are supported and trained by the administrators. Whereas to be a successful administrator in the school district you have to watch your butt and do things to please higher ups no matter how much that hurts education in general and students in particular.

The Philadelphia School District administration is incompetent not its teachers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 5, 2011 4:08 am

Key finding is the program doesn't benefit students nor is it aligned with the math curriculum / PSSA. While I hope the be all and end all of the math curriculum is not the PSSA - though, unfortunately, it is - Corrective Math is not algined. So, students are getting math twice a day that doesn't go together. If one struggles with math this is ridiculous. It adds to the confusion. Students are dragged through one math operation at a time for potentially months if the teachers follows the directions for Corrective Math. That is a waste of time - especially if the student's IEP says "learn to use a calculator."

Corrective Math was one of Ackerman's many purchases that put more burden on Empowerment schools and teachers than it helped.

Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on October 5, 2011 9:18 am

Someone needs to go public with this information, besides teachers. Many parents would not want their children sitting in corrective math classrooms. I would not want my kids to be subjected to this demeaning curriculum unless they absolutely needed remediation and the program was implemented with fidelity.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on October 5, 2011 3:46 pm

 The public can only be made aware if educators are willing to "go public."

Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on October 6, 2011 12:35 pm

I agree with you, but many will not for fear of retribution by the District. I am not saying that the District will or will not seek retribution against outspoken teachers, but that is the feeling amongst some of us. Also, if Principals or other Administrators came out against the scripted programs, the public would be more open to listening to the negative impact they are having on children citywide.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 6, 2011 4:33 pm

The fear is frustrating. It's also largely unfounded, if someone is willing to be uncomfortable for a moment (i.e. a principal upset with you, maybe?). The the legal system has been pretty disapproving of retaliation against public employees for speaking out on matters of public interest.

Even Hope Moffet, an untenured teacher in a case where the District tried to use a completely unrelated claim, was back in the classroom immediately once a real court heard the case.

The District relies on teachers being afraid to speak out, but if someone defies their scary "don't say anything" directives, the district doesn't have much legal ground to actually do something as long as the teacher hasn't been doing it on school time.

It's still probably advisable to check with a lawyer before saying anything particular to Philly that goes beyond general education policy (i.e. specific about a school or personnel, anything done during school time, etc.). But generally, courts are not totally daft, and if it's clear that the retaliation is for speaking out about something, the SDP will lose.

In addition to the legal reasons, if a lot of teachers provided a well-argued perspective, I think the SDP would be very reluctant to retaliate for fear of the political/public fallout. The Hope Moffett case shows why -- it's probably the only thing Ackerman did that got even some of her vocal supporters to say, "I suppose Dr. A. generally., but this is the wrong thing to do."

Submitted by C. Ebby (not verified) on October 7, 2011 1:14 pm

When a group of use testified about many of these issues with Corrective Math and Reading in front of the SRC in May 2010, the commissioners said they wanted to see data collected on the effectiveness of this program. To my knowledge, the district has not released any data about these interventions that have been in place for two years now. This issue needs to be raised again as 90 minutes a day are being wasted in schools where students need effective instruction. We need to demand that district leaders provide justification for this waste of precious resources.

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