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    August 15th, 2014

    Report on Advanced Learning in the Cambridge Public Schools

    On July 29th 2014, the Cambridge Public Schools’ Academic Challenge and Enrichment Program Manager, Paula Feynman, presented to the School Committee and Administration on the state of advanced learning in CPS.  Slides from her presentation are here.

    The presentation was covered by Jean Cummings in The Cambridge Day, in her article “Difficulties handling ‘advanced learners’ in new structure is test for school officials”  Here’s an excerpt:

    Feynman has been working across kindergarten through eighth grades in all schools, including teaching some classes, to improve identification of accelerated learners and provide challenge for them either in their current classrooms, by moving them up a subject grade level or by creating special projects including an accelerated upper school math pathway. She is also working on improving differentiated learning in the classroom.

    Who is an “advanced learner”?

    There are many definitions of gifted learners, Feynman said, but “we are looking for the sweet spot” that is the intersection of “above average ability,” “creativity” and “task commitment.” She verifies a student for the advanced learner program through a variety of assessments, as a high IQ alone may not be enough if there is no appropriate program available.

    In a few instances, students identify themselves as advanced learners, but at this point most are identified by family. Committee members expressed concern that this results in a pool that is disproportionately non-minority and of higher income, with those left out “probably not in families where people are advocating for them” for the program, as Nolan said. Feynman agreed that was a concern.

    Also, “it is fairly well documented in research that teachers under-identify” accelerated learners, Feynman said. “We often have ideas of what a typical advanced learner looks like” and miss behavioral issues or even underachievement as tip-offs. She hopes better training will help teachers identify advanced learners.

    Here’s the full article.

    April 25th, 2014

    New Math Pathways for Cambridge Middle School Students

    On March 4th, 2014 the Cambridge Public School District administration and School Committee amended the Academic Challenge Policy to allow for two math pathways in the CPS middle schools.  The CALA community has advocated for this change for two years, and supports this decision, as it better enables middle school math teachers to meet the wide ranging math learning needs of their students.  The change also closes an opportunity gap for socioeconomically disadvantaged children with advanced math learning needs, whose families might not otherwise be able to afford advanced math opportunities for them.

    The math pathways are designed to be flexible, so that students may move from one to another as best fits their academic needs.

    Detailed information about the new math options is below.  The revised Academic Challenge Policy is here.


    Below is text from the four information sheets that went home with students in April 2014, about middle school math options, including options for the spring and summer bridge course. All were published by the CPS math department: http://www3.cpsd.us/Math/Math  Feel free to forward this post, especially to the middle school listserves.

    Middle School Mathematics Programming
    2014-2015 School Year
    Information for FamiliesIn the 2014-2015 school year, each of the Upper Campuses and the Amigos School will implement two new mathematics courses in 7th and 8th grades. The addition of these new courses will give middle school students the opportunity to complete Algebra 1 by the end of 8th grade.The diagram below outlines math options open to students in the 2014-2015 school year:

    On-Grade Level: Grade 6 –> Grade 7 –> Grade 8 –> CRLS: Algebra 1 or Geometry

    Accelerated Level: Grade 6 –> Accelerated Grade 7 –> Grade 8 Algebra 1 –> CRLS: Algebra 1 Honors or Geometry

    Details of Math Options by Grade Level
    Grade 6
    All 6th grade students will be enrolled in a 6th grade math class. Math classes in the Upper Campuses (excluding the Amigos School) are co-taught by two teachers. This model allows teachers to fully meet the mathematical needs of their students, while also focusing on their emotional and social needs as they become middle school students.

    Grade 7
    At the end of a student’s 6th grade year, students will be evaluated for a classroom placement in
    7th grade. Students will be directed into one of two pathways:

    • An on-grade level classroom where students will complete 7th grade math by the end of the 7th grade. This classroom will have rigorous instruction and hold high expectations of students.

    • An accelerated level classroom where students will complete all of 7th grade and half of 8th grade. In 8th grade, students will complete the remaining 8th grade content and Algebra 1.

    Decisions will be discussed with families in the Spring and will be made based on a student’s mathematical ability and emotional and social readiness. Any family wishing to override the school’s recommendation will need to enroll their student in a 7th grade preview program. Classroom teachers will provide details to families wishing to take this route.

    Grade 8
    After the end of a student’s 7th grade year, students will be recommended again for placement in either the on-grade level 8th grade classroom or the accelerated level 8th grade classroom:

    • Students in the on-grade level 8th grade classroom will complete a full and rigorous 8th grade math program and be ready to enroll in Algebra 1 in their 9th grade year.

    • Students in the accelerated level 8th grade classroom (Grade 8 Algebra 1) will complete the remaining 8th grade content, as well as a full and rigorous Algebra 1 course.

    Recommendations will be discussed with families in the Spring and will be made based on a student’s mathematical ability and emotional and social readiness. Any family wishing to override the school’s recommendation will need take an assessment of prerequisite 8th grade content and score 80%. This assessment will be offered to students in mid-June and at the start of the school year.

    Programming to be Offered This Year to Prepare Students
    Students recommended to enroll in the accelerated level 8th grade classrooms in the 2014-2015 school year will need to show mastery of the prerequisite 8th grade content scoring 80% on an assessment. To support students in meeting this goal, the district will offer programs in the Spring and Summer:

    In the Spring (before students leave for April Break), students will be given an outline of content they need to learn. Students will be given access to Edgenuity and will need to complete assignments each week. A teacher at each campus will meet with students afterschool once a week for two hours to teach identified crucial lessons, and to offer support to students with the week’s material. Students should plan to take the assessment offered in June.

    In the Summer, students will be able to register in a 5-week summer class that will teach them the outlined content in a classroom for 2 hours a day. We are working with our community summer programs to possibly integrate this class into existing summer opportunities. We will provide schools and families with more information on this option before April Break.

    High School Entry
    After the end of a student’s 8th grade year, students will be recommended again for placement in either Algebra 1 (College Prep level or Honors level) or Geometry (Honors level only) in 9th grade. Generally, students in the on-grade level classroom will take Algebra 1 in 9th grade and students in the accelerated level classroom will take Geometry Honors in 9th grade. Families wanting to override a school’s recommendation will need to take an Algebra 1 Final Exam to determine their child’s mastery of Algebra 1 content in either June or at the start of the school year. Students scoring 80% or higher will be placed in Geometry Honors (10th grade math), bypassing Algebra 1 (9th grade math) in high school.

    Staff, students, and families are encouraged to email any questions they have to Mark Healy, District Math Coordinator, at mhealy@cpsd.us, or to Dr. Jessica Huizenga, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, at jhuizenga@cpsd.us .


    Middle School Mathematics Programming
    Accelerated 8th Grade Math Preparation

    Any child who will be enrolled in the Accelerated 8th Grade Math class in September 2014 will need
    to complete a preparation course. This course will teach students content from 8th grade that they
    will need to know before starting the course in September. Students must learn this content and pass
    an exam before starting the Accelerated 8th Grade Math class in September.

    Preparation Course
    Students wishing to start their preparation now can use our online instruction platform, Edgenuity.
    To access the site, students should ask for a username and password from their classroom teacher.
    Alternatively, families can send their child’s name and school in an email to the District Math
    Coordinator, Mark Healy (mhealy@cpsd.us) , to receive their child’s username and password. Each
    school will hold a class once a week to support students as they complete the Edgenuity course.

    In June, after completing the course, students will need to take a placement exam and achieve at
    least 80% on the exam. This will guarantee their placement in the Accelerated 8th Grade Math class.
    The exam will be given at each of the schools during the week of June 9. Students not passing the
    exam will be given a second opportunity to take the exam in September and will have access to
    Edgenuity over the summer.

    Attached to this letter, you will find the following information:
    • An outline of content to cover by week
    • A suggested calendar that families can use to cover the content in time for the June exam

    Accessing Edgenuity
    Once a student has their Edgenuity account information, they should login to the site, http://www.edgenuity.com . Once they login, they should do two things:

    Check that their computer has the correct applications installed: On the login screen, there is a link that says “Check PlugUins.” Click on the link and download any required software.

    Watch the Orientation Video: After logging in to Edgenuity, click on the “Organizer” button. Then choose “Resources,” then “Orientation and HowUTo,” then “Student Orientation Video.”

    After performing these steps, they can return to the main screen and clink on the course to start, which is called “8th Grade Accelerated Bridge Course.” They can start the first activity by clicking on “Next Activity.”

    The Edgenuity Support Desk is very helpful, so please feel free to use it if you have any issues. Their
    phone number is 877U202U0338. When your call is answered, press Option 3 for support. They are
    available Monday through Friday from 7:30am until 9:30pm, and Saturday from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
    Any questions or concerns can be addressed to Mark Healy, District Math Coordinator, at mhealy@cpsd.us or at 617-349-6683.


    8th Grade Accelerated Course Preparation – April 2014
    Course Pacing

    Week 1 – April 28
    The Real Number System
    • Know that numbers that are not rational are called irrational
    • Understand rational numbers have a decimal expansion that repeats eventually, and convert a decimal expansion which repeats eventually into a rational number
    • Use rational approximations of irrational numbers
    Standards: 8.NS.1, 8.NS.2

    • Apply the properties of integer exponents to generate equivalent numerical expressions
    • Use square root and cube root symbols
    Standards: 8.EE.1, 8.EE.2

    Week 2 – May 5
    Scientific Notation
    • Use scientific notation to estimate very large or very small quantities
    • Perform operations with numbers expressed in scientific notation
    Standards: 8.EE.3, 8.EE.4

    Week 3 – May 12
    Algebraic Linear Equations
    • Solve linear equations in one variable.
    • Give examples of linear equations in one variable with one solution, infinitely many solutions, or no solutions.
    • Solve linear equations with rational number coefficients
    Standards: 8.EE.7a, 8.EE.7b

    Week 4 – May 19
    Lines and Linear Equations
    • Recognize equations for proportions (y/x = m or y = mx) as special linear equations (y = mx + b)
    • Understand that the constant of proportionality (m)  is the slope, and the graphs are lines through the origin (0, 0)
    • Compare two different proportional relationships represented in different
    • Understand that the slope (m) of a line is a constant rate of change
    • Derive the equation y = mx for a line through the origin and the equation y = mx + b for a line intercepting the vertical axis at b
    Standards: 8.EE.5, 8.EE.6

    Week 5 – May 26
    Systems of Linear Equations
    • Solve systems of two linear equations in two variables and relate the
    systems to pairs of lines in the plane; these intersect, are parallel, or are the
    same line
    • Use linear equations, systems of linear equations, linear functions, and slope
    of a line to analyze situations and solve problems
    • Solve systems of two linear equations in two variables algebraically, and
    estimate solutions by graphing the equations.
    Standards: 8.EE.8a, 8.EE.8b, 8.EE.8c

    Week 6 – June 2: Review

    Week 7 – June 9: Final Exam


    8th Grade Accelerated Pathway Bridge Course

    April 28
    • Exponents
    • Exponents & Multiplication
    • Exponents & Division

    April  29
    • Scientific Notation
    • Negative Exponents

    April  30
    • Topic Test

    May 1
    • Solving Equations by
    Adding or

    May 2
    • Solving Equations by Multiplying or Dividing
    • Solving Two-Step Equations

    May 5
    • Writing Two-Step Equations

    May 6
    • Topic Test

    May 7
    • Combining Like Terms
    • Solving Multi-Step Equations

    May 8
    • Solving Equations with Variables on Both Sides
    • Solving Equations with Grouping Symbols

    May 9
    • Topic Test

    May 12
    • Number Sets

    May 13
    • Introduction to Radicals
    • Square and Square Roots

    May 14
    • Finding Square Roots
    • Square Roots and Irrational Numbers

    May 15
    • Solving Equations with Rational Numbers

    May 16
    • Topic Test

    May 19
    • Cumulative Exam

    May 20
    • Introduction to Functions

    May 21
    • Graphing Linear Functions

    May 22
    • Topic Test

    May 23
    • Slope

    May 26
    • Rate of Change

    May 27
    • Slope-Intercept Form

    May 28
    • Topic Test

    May 29
    • Writing Linear Equations
    • Linear Equations and Two Variables

    May 30
    • Graphing Linear Equations Using Intercepts

    June 2
    • Systems of Equations

    June 3
    • Topic Test

    June 4
    •  Cumulative Exam

    June 5

    June 6

    Week of June 9 – Final Exam

    January 17th, 2014

    Are Academically Advanced Kids Human Capital?

    In this recent article in Newsweek titled “America Hates Its Gifted Kids”, author Chris Weller argues that extremely advanced learners are human capital that is being squandered by the US education system.  Here’s an excerpt:

    Tomlinson’s frustrations, much like those experienced by many of the nation’s public school teachers, are compounded by the larger forces acting on the environment in which she works. Figures released early last year showed 80 percent of entrants into City University of New York schools needed remediation in reading, writing and math in order to enroll. But Tomlinson has been able to work within the constraints by balancing her time to ensure uplift on both ends. “I’m extremely grateful to be working at a school that consistently reminds me to continue to push my gifted and talented students,” she said. “They do not necessarily have the motivation, skills or access to outlets for growth to succeed on their own. They need me, too.” After all, a gifted 12-year-old is still a 12-year-old.

    But for every Tomlinson, there will be a teacher (or five) who can’t manage the delicate balance, or is uncomfortable teaching outside the norm. For the U.S. to reach the upper echelons of educational attainment in an increasingly competitive global environment, it probably needs change that comes from both the bottom, through teachers like Tomlinson, and the top, from serious education reform focused on cultivating intellectual achievement. Before innovative ideas like Lubinski’s can take hold, there needs to be a consensus among all the stakeholders that winning is important, and it isn’t enough to simply enter the race.

    The complete article is here.


    January 8th, 2014

    Invisibility of Students with Exceptionally Advanced Learning Needs

    The staff of ScienceDaily.com,  a science reporting website, recently published a piece titled “Are Gifted Children Getting Lost in the Shuffle?” The story cites a 2013 research journal article by David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow, of Vanderbilt University called “Who Rises to the Top? Early Indicators”.

    Here’s an excerpt from the ScienceDaily article:

    “Despite their remarkable success, researchers concluded that the profoundly gifted students had experienced roadblocks along the way that at times prevented them from achieving their full potential. Typical school settings were often unable to accommodate the rapid rate at which they learned and digested complex material. When students entered elementary and high school classrooms on day one having already mastered the course material, teachers often shifted focus away from them to those struggling with the coursework. This resulted in missed learning opportunities, frustration and underachievement, particularly for the exceptionally talented, the researchers suggest.”

    The complete article is here.

    January 2nd, 2014

    NYTimes Editorial Board Calls for Improved Gifted Education

    The editorial board of the New York Times recently published this call to action, asking US education leaders to greatly increase efforts to identify and develop students of every race and class who have both the intelligence and drive to succeed at very high levels. The piece, titled “Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up“, offers specific suggestions on how to improve gifted education.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “The federal and state governments should support education of the gifted more aggressively. The federal government provides very little money to educate gifted students and state financing is spotty, with many states leaving it to local school districts. The states face a loss of federal funds if students don’t reach minimum proficiency levels, but they are given no such incentive to propel top students to defined standards of excellence. The federal government should require schools to monitor and improve the performance of their gifted students, backed up with financial incentives. Only eight states track the academic performance of gifted students as a separate group.

    More money could help create a corps of teachers trained in identifying and teaching highly talented students. Many such students are never identified because of assumptions that overlook minority and low-income students. Currently, only three states require their general education teachers to have some type of training in gifted education and only 17 states require teachers in programs for the gifted and talented to have a credential for gifted education.”

    The complete article is here.

    December 19th, 2013

    Interaction of Teaching-to-the-Test and Socioeconomic Status

    Here’s an excerpt of an essay by University of California at Davis Professor Norman Matloff, titled “Let’s Not Panic Over U.S. Students’ Global Rankings“:

    “Even former Premier Wen Jiabao has complained about China’s rote-memory approach to education. Chen Lixin, an engineering professor at Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xian, has warned that China produces students who can’t think independently or creatively, and have trouble solving practical problems. He wrote in 1999 that the Chinese education system “results in the phenomenon of high scores and low ability,” an observation germane to PISA results. In the 2009 tests, “students scored low in independent reading strategies, meaning they rely on teachers’ instruction on what to read,” according to the Shanghai Daily.

    My hat is off to those 15-year-olds and Jiaoda contestants in Shanghai. But this isn’t the direction the U.S. should take. Yes, we need to bring up the proficiency of our weakest students — a social challenge that goes far deeper than the harrumphing about “fixing our schools” would indicate. Yet we shouldn’t bring down the level of the stronger students just to win international contests.”

    The complete article is here.

    December 10th, 2013

    CPS Office of Academic Challenge Website is Launched!

    The Cambridge Public School District’s Office of Academic Challenge now has it’s own website, with information, resources, a calendar, and more. The full website is here:  https://sites.google.com/a/cpsd.us/pfeyman2/

    There is also now a link from the “Departments” section of the main CPSD website takes you to this introductory page:   http://www3.cpsd.us/ia3/academic_challenge

    Please let the Academic Challenge Program Manager, Paula Feynman, know if there are any resources that you feel would be helpful for her to add there.  You can reach her at 617-349-6427 or pfeynman@cpsd.us

    November 8th, 2013

    Racism in Education in the US

    This Education Week blog post by Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers titled “Facing Racism” explores the difficult subjects of cultural and personal racism in education.

    “And each of us is a more courageous leader if we wrestle long with ourselves to know whatever bias lives in us.  We have children watching and waiting for us to do something.  We cannot ignore the revelations that appear in the news.  They are our opportunities.  These are difficult steps to take and guidance along the way is essential.  No matter the process chosen, the first steps have to be to open the doors for the adults to begin to examine their own bias, or ignorance, or prejudice.  If we do not begin in earnest, to face the truth about our societal beliefs about being white or black or Asian, we cannot lead schools that are safe for children of color and we will not be preparing our students for lives as adults in welcoming, multi-cultural world.”

    The complete article is here.

    October 3rd, 2013

    Rise in Advocacy for Advanced Learning Programs Across the US

    This article in Education Week, titled “Parents Press for Attention to Programs for Gifted Students“, by Nora Fleming, examines efforts across the US to establish services and interventions for students with advanced learning needs.  Here’s an excerpt:

    “According to Donna Ford, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education, minorities are also at a greater disadvantage in accessing gifted education because of districts’ measures to determine whether a student is gifted. These policies and procedures can discriminate against students who may not have had access to resources and opportunities outside of school that help highlight exceptional talents and abilities. Teachers often are ill-equipped to identify students who are highly capable since few states require pre-service teachers to receive training in gifted education, she said.

    The onus then falls to parents to access gifted services for their children, and oftentimes districts do not do enough to make disadvantaged parents more aware of how to do so.

    ‘You can’t push and advocate for a program you don’t know exists, isn’t in your language, or you have never had experience with yourself,’ Ms. Ford said. ‘Minority parents want their kids identified as gifted and to have access to rigorous programs, but they can’t do that when it’s kept a big secret and mystery.'”

    The complete article is here.

    September 4th, 2013

    A Brief History of Algebra 1 Instruction in Massachusetts

    Kenneth Chang’s article titled “Expecting the Best Yields Results in Massachusetts” takes a look at the history of middle school math and science education in Massachusetts.  Here’s an excerpt:

    “Some think it was the added money; others note that successful countries operate schools at much lower costs.

    Some think high-stakes testing imposed accountability on administrators, teachers and students; others say that it merely added stress and that the proliferation of tests takes away too much time from learning.

    Some think the standards gave clarity on what was expected of teachers and students; others say there is little correlation between well-written standards and student performance.

    Officials like Dr. Driscoll say all three components were essential.”

    The complete article is here.