Plano Star Courier, December 23, 1998

Connected Math - Buyers' Beware

As the Plano community wrestles with the decision of implementing Connected Mathematics across all middle schools next year, it is only reasonable and prudent to be aware of what the program developers say about their own product. Since students' performance on standardized tests is of utmost importance to parents, we should start by looking at what the developers have to say about this. (You can find these information on their website:

"Because the curriculum does not emphasize arithmetic computations done by hand, some CMP students may not do as well on parts of standardized tests assessing computational skills as students in classes that spend most of their time on practicing such skills. We believe such a trade-off in favor of CMP is very much to students' advantage in both the world of work and in continued study of mathematics."

The Plano community should be aware of this "trade-off" and make an informed decision. Are we prepared to have "some" students do poorly TAAS or SAT because of CMP? The developers did a comparison study investigating the performance of CMP and non-CMP students using two different assessment instruments: Balanced Assessment and ITBS. Non-CMP students performed better in the timed standardized test (ie. ITBS). However, PISD has portrayed Connected Mathematics in a different light. In a written document circulated to parents, PISD has this to say about CMP:
"Basic skills are a vital part of CMP. In addition to the basic skills practice embedded in CMP, Plano teachers developed a set of worksheets to reinforce basic skills through drill and practice. These worksheets are assigned on a weekly basis."

In the mind of an average parent, "basic skills" would usually be equated to "arithmetic computations skills." It is clear that Connected Mathematics emphasizes higher level thinking skills at the expense of arithmetic computation skills. If basic skills are a vital part of CMP, why the extra worksheets? Will there be time for such supplemental material? CMP developers provide this definitive answer:

"The CMP materials form a complete mathematics curriculum for grades six, seven, and eight,… Mathematics teachers using CMP will not have the need, or very probably the time, to use supplements or "openers." Supplemental problem-solving activities are not necessary, since problem-solving forms the basis of the CMP curriculum." (italics added for emphasis)

Parents are also interested in the policy of calculator usage. PISD tries to assuage expected parental anxiety by saying:

"Calculator use is left to the individual teacher's discretion as is the case in our traditional program."

But this is contradicted by the student workbook which has this instruction on page 4 under "Mathematical Highlights":

"As you [the student] work on the Connected Mathematics units, you will decide whether to use a calculator to help you solve a problem." (italics added for emphasis)

I do not believe that teachers knowingly misled parents. Neither do I have the interest to know if the administration have deliberately sought to deceive parents. In fact, I came to know about the developers' website through PISD's document. For all we know, they may have simply missed the developers' caveat.

Let me add that I have the utmost respect for our teachers. The fact that CMP teachers spent the last few summers attending training without pay speaks volumes about their dedication to our children's education. I have urged the school board to consider compensating you for the time spent as it seems somewhat unfair. I apologize to teachers who have felt offended with my earlier article. That was not my intention. Knowing the pros and cons of this innovative and revolutionary program is crucial to making an informed choice. For the sake of our children, let us deal with the evidences dispassionately and objectively.

Timothy Soh