January 5, 2021
Dear Sixth Grade Parents and Guardians,
We hope you are well and enjoyed the winter recess. We also hope your children are engaged and learning in this unusual year. We are writing to inform you of a change to the seventh and eighth grade math program at the Concord Middle School for the 2021-2022 school year which will affect your children.
Historically, seventh and eighth graders in Concord have been placed into three levels of mathematics (Independent, Guided, and Directed) using a variety of assessment tools administered over the course of their previous school year. Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, this will no longer be the practice in the seventh and eighth grade math program. Instead, seventh grade students will be in mixed-ability groups called heterogeneous groups. Eighth grade students will be recommended for Algebra or Pre-Algebra.
This change reflects two initiatives from our CPS/CCHS Strategic Plan:
1.5 Develop programs in collaboration with families and students that prepare students for multiple paths to success, in addition to college, in a 21st century world and
1.6 Expand use of programs to share effective practices by Concord/Concord-Carlisle educators in real world pedagogy and differentiated lessons.
We believe that this change is in students’ best interests because the learning environment we are in due to the pandemic makes the administration of high-stakes placement tests challenging. Also, there is heightened student and parent anxiety due the pandemic already, and giving tests with high-stakes ramifications will exacerbate this. Without levels of math, these tests would not have to be administered. In addition to contributing to social-emotional well-being, not scheduling these tests also leaves more time on task for the Massachusetts Curriculum standards, giving students more opportunity to become proficient in these skills. Unit curriculum assessments also become less high stakes in that students can focus on what skills still need to be developed without the stress of how it will affect their math grouping in years to come. There has been an observed increase in student and parent anxiety related to math placement at the middle school level in recent years prior to the pandemic also. Parents have reported that these placement issues have had a negative effect on their students’ comfort level and enjoyment of their academics. Overall, our students’ stress levels have been well documented and we continue to find ways to alleviate it.
Additionally, because there is research to show that students are continuing to develop in their ability to learn complex concepts in grades 6, 7 and 8 leveling in these grades could be premature. “Mixed achievement teaching is associated with higher overall achievement for students of all levels…” (Boaler, et als, 2015, 2018). We will employ teaching practices, called Differentiated Instruction, that work well with heterogeneously grouped math classes and with the curriculum. “Differentiated Instruction is a process through which teachers enhance learning by matching student characteristics to instruction and assessment. Differentiated instruction allows all students to access the same classroom curriculum by providing entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes that are tailored to students’ needs” (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer, 2003). Using Differentiated Instruction, each student in our seventh and eighth grades will have the opportunity to be challenged and supported. Over the coming months, our seventh and eighth grade math teaching teams plan to reach out to a number of high-performing schools that use this model successfully.
We are confident that we have the tools needed to make this system of learning mathematics successful for all students. We have skillful math instructors who are dedicated to this work. We have a robust curriculum that can support the needs of all learners. We have the time to work on developing the program so it is ready for your children in the fall of 2021. We are excited for this new program of math learning in our seventh and eighth grades and believe that, through it, each student can reach their highest potential.
Please direct any comments or questions you may have on this topic to any one of the undersigned. There will also be an evening information session and forum on this topic on Thursday, January 14, 6:30pm through a Zoom webinar.
All of our best,
Director of Teaching and Learning
Concord Public Schools & Concord-Carlisle Regional School District
Concord Middle School
Math Department Chair
Concord Middle School