Graphic-Calculators

The Detroit News

Metro Section

June 17, 1998

Math debate heats up Professor won’t give up controversial data on Core-Plus

program in Bloomfield Hills By Rusty Hoover / The Detroit News

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — A math program at Andover High School that students say has

cheated them out of a solid math education is now causing a second round of

controversy.

This time, a university math professor, trying to find out if students in Core-Plus

math are learning anything, is battling the Bloomfield Hills School District to keep

his data confidential. Wayne State University math professor Gregory Bachelis vows

not to turn over his surveys about the math program without a court order. At issue

is whether teaching Core-Plus math at Andover is seriously handicapping

college-bound students, as indicated by some survey comments collected by Bachelis.

But the school district, which includes Andover and another high school that doesn’t

use the math program, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain

Bachelis’ documents.

Some Andover parents are angry that their children were forced into the Core-Plus

pilot program, which relies on the use of graphing calculators, which allow students

to enter an equation and get a visual representation of it. Parents have demanded a

choice of math courses.

That is too late for Melissa Lynn, 18, who graduated summa cum laude with a 3.97

grade point average from Andover last year. She failed the math placement test at the

University of Michigan, scoring in the first percentile, the lowest possible.

Worse, she didn’t recognize what was being asked on the test. She called 14 other

U-M students who had taken Andover’s Core-Plus math and found they placed

anywhere from the first to the sixth percentile, she said. “Everything I didn’t know

was algebra,” Lynn said.

But proponents of Core-Plus say the program does a better job of preparing students

to handle math and higher order thinking in a complex world. But critics say the

program doesn’t focus heavily enough on basic algebra. Core-Plus was implemented

as a pilot program at Andover five years ago, with the first class of Core-Plus

students graduating in 1997.

The battle has widened. John Toma, Andover principal, has written to Wayne State

University President Irvin Reid, calling Bachelis’ character into question and saying

that Andover will caution students about attending Wayne State.

“Our community and our educators have been maligned and I think we have the right

to see the complete information,” said Gary Doyle, superintendent of the Bloomfield

Hills School District. Bachelis said a parents’ group is funding the survey, which he

is doing on his own time. Bachelis sent surveys to all the 1997 graduates of the

Bloomfield Hills School District — students who took traditional math and those who

took four years of Core-Plus, a controversial new math program. Bachelis wants to

see how Core-Plus students did their first year in college, compared to students who

took traditional math — algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus. Wayne State

officials said Bachelis’ survey is not a Wayne State project and they don’t have the

documents to give to Bloomfield Hills.

Bachelis said he wants to make sure that students’ names won’t be revealed because

he promised them confidentiality. Doyle said he doesn’t care about the names, he just

wants the data. It would be of interest to Andover graduate Loren Thal, 19. He is

taking a beginning math course this summer to make up for what he didn’t learn in

four years of Core-Plus, earning A’s and B’s. He took a math placement test at

Michigan State, and wound up in Math 103, the lowest level math course a student

can take for credit. He had to drop the class. “I was having tremendous difficulty with

it. It stems back to Core-Plus.

The basic and fundamental ideas weren’t covered in class,” he said. “I got (stuck) in

this program. I did not have a choice,” he said. Although he had tested in the superior

range in math capability, he said he is not successful in math right now. “I have to

relearn all my math.” Bachelis said that the problem with Core-Plus is that students

do not drill in algebra — practice solving a number of similar problems. If a

student can’t do algebra, the student can’t move on to calculus, Bachelis said.

But Christian Hirsch, a Western Michigan University math and math education

professor who developed Core-Plus, said that algebra is integrated into the program.

Since the first four-year Core-Plus class graduated from Andover in 1997, the

course has been revised with more emphasis on things like algebraic factoring.

He said that many students from traditional math programs go to college and fail the

placement tests. “People then tend to say the student didn’t have a good day and the

failure isn’t ascribed to the math program.” Andover will add a traditional algebra

class to the curriculum this fall, along with a survey class of algebra and geometry.

Students can also opt to take a traditional math curriculum by going to nearby

Lahser High School, Toma said.

Behind the debate

Core-Plus math Students work in groups to investigate, experiment with and apply

math concepts. Students use graphing calculators to solve problems, but don’t spend

as much time on drills — doing repetitive problems to learn a concept.

Critics say Program is light on algebra. Proponents say Algebra is woven into many

lessons. Origin Developed at Western Michigan University and financed by the

National Science Foundation. Goal To apply new standards developed by the National

Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Where offered Bloomfield Hills, West Bloomfield, Southfield-Lathrup, Ypsilanti and

Southwestern High School in Detroit.

Sources Western Michigan University, Bloomfield Hills Schools and Detroit

News research.

Copyright 1998, The Detroit News