Lafayette schools trying to give parents a hand with math homework _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRAD BOWIE -- The Lafayette Parish School System has held several professional development opportunities for math teachers. This past summer, middle school math teachers participated in a training on new content standards aligned with Common Core.

The effort by the school system’s staff is in response to a recent request from School Board members who say they’ve been hearing complaints from parents about math learning options.

Board members asked the staff to do a better job of educating parents about resources designed to help with math homework, which has become more complex with the deeper math concepts taught under Common Core State Standards.

At a recent school board workshop, instructional staff briefed board members about curriculum changes and talked about resources available to assist parents struggling to help their children with their math homework.

“Although we’re coaching teachers and doing what we can to teach people how to teach this method, our constituency is slightly frustrated and the (center) of that frustration is … math,” board member Erick Knezek said at a board workshop held Feb. 11.

Another board member — Justin Centanni — told staff he considered himself an involved parent, but was unaware of the online resources available to parents, which include online video tutorials that break down math lessons.

The main change in instruction is that teachers now delve more deeply into math concepts, assistant superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said in an interview last week.

“It’s an in-depth approach. Instead of learning things at surface level, it’s a deeper understanding,” she said. “It’s conceptual learning. They have to understand why they’re learning something. Math is a language in and of itself. You have to know and learn that language in order to master it.”

Based on board members’ comments, staff is brainstor ming ways to raise awareness about the available resources, Billeaudeau said. “We know that we have to get the message out,” she said.

Despite the parental anxiety, school students in Lafayette seem to be catching on to the new math curricula.

Lafayette Parish school students improved their proficiency in math skills in the 2013-14 school year, the first year that “deeper math” concepts questioned by some parents were fully implemented in the classroom.

The concepts are aligned to new learning standards — the Common Core State Standards — which also were implemented in English language arts. Opposition to the new standards, as well as the tests tied to them, have come from parents, legislators and the governor. In Lafayette Parish, about a dozen students won’t take the test next month at their parents’ requests.

About 72 percent of third- through eighth-grade students received scores of basic, mastery or advanced on the math portion of LEAP and iLEAP tests — the tests used in 2013-14 to gauge students’ proficiency in math and English language arts. In 2012-13, only 59 percent of students scored at the same levels of proficiency.

Students receive scores of advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic or unsatisfactory on the test. More students — 11 percent — scored the highest level of proficiency — advanced — in 2013-14 compared to fewer than 3 percent in 2012-13. More students also scored mastery — nearly 16 percent — in 2013-14 compared to 10 percent in 2012-13.

In 2012-13, about 21 students scored either approaching basic or unsatisfactory on the tests, while in 2013-14, fewer students scored the lowest proficiency levels with 15 percent scoring approaching basic and 13 percent scoring unsatisfactory.

The improvement in scores was a good sign, especially as the level of instruction was more rigorous in the school district’s first year of implementation, said Penny Gennuso , the school system’s math and science specialist.

“Usually, they say it takes three years to see the full effect of a program that’s well implemented, so to have that kind of data in one year has been really amazing,” Gennuso said.

She credited the growth to the hard work of instructional staff and students. The school system has provided resources to teachers — through summer trainings and on-the-job resources through math coaches — and to parents with planned events at schools and online resources.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.