Columbia County sixth-graders took a new state-mandated math test last week that favored concept over computation.
A new Criterion-Referenced Competency Test in sixth-grade math reflected the changes wrought by the first-year implementation of the Georgia Performance Standards. The more rigorous GPS replaced the Quality Core Curriculum math in sixth grade this school year.
"It's much more in-depth thinking and less superficial number-crunching," said Lakeside Middle School sixth-grade math teacher Dorcas Powell, who trained other sixth-grade faculty members in the system on how to teach the new curriculum.
"Our concern is that students really understand the concepts of math," she said.
"That's become more important than just being able to compute."
Current sixth-graders will face the new GPS math curriculum in seventh grade and then eighth grade. The new math curriculum will continue to be implemented at a higher grade level each until the GPS is fully integrated in sixth through 12th grades.
The CRCT and the Georgia High School Graduation Tests will reflect the changes to the curriculum as it is implemented into the higher grades.
Mike Lindsey, the system's director of middle school learning, said he is awaiting test results.
"We've heard it's a difficult test," he said. "We're anxious about it. We're anxious to see how they're going to do."
CRCT results for sixth-graders won't determine a pupil's promotion, as it will in the eighth grade. A poor showing on the CRCT, however, could jeopardize a school's ability to make adequate yearly progress as outlined by the No Child Left Behind law.
Despite such perils, Mr. Lindsey and Ms. Powell said the new math is a positive step.
"It's definitely the right way to go," Ms. Powell said. "It's just going to be difficult for the next couple of years as everyone has to change. For some teachers, they are having to learn new material."
Currently, seventh-grade teachers are learning the GPS curriculum.
Some fifth-grade teachers are also learning the new standards to prepare their pupils for the math challenges they will face in the sixth grade, Mr. Lindsey said.
Ms. Powell, a former teacher in North Carolina, said the GPS is based on curricula taught in Michigan and Texas. Those models, in turn, are based on Japanese methods of math instruction.
"A lot of what they're doing is what's called performance tasks," she said.
"Those tasks require them to read some very complicated information, decipher that information, analyze what's needed and then act upon that to answer a series of questions."
Mr. Lindsey said it's a new model for math instruction.
"Math is totally different now," he said. "We're answering the question: 'Why do I have to learn this?' We're putting it into a practical application."
Reach Donnie Fetter at 868-1222, ext. 109, or firstname.lastname@example.org.