With a controversial new elementary math curriculum well into its second year, a discussion of elementary math "instruction and assessment" on tonight's Palo Alto Board of Education agenda is likely to be spirited.
In the past three years, Palo Alto elementary students have shown continuous math improvement on the California Star Test, with 71 percent of third graders, 72 percent of fourth graders and 64 percent of fifth graders scoring at the "advanced" level.
But the district is still struggling to adapt to the new curriculum, Everyday Mathematics.
Vocal criticism continues to come from some parents who have opposed the new curriculum from the start, and teacher surveys suggest many are still seeking to strike the right balance with the new material.
In a survey this month, a strong majority of teachers said they feel comfortable teaching the new curriculum, but many said they need more help in finding "enrichment" options and other ways to adapt the material to the needs of particular students.
Only half the teachers said "the current assessments in Everyday Math meet their needs."
And just half said they felt comfortable adapting the material to deliver the best instruction for high-performing students.
Some elementary schools have used discretionary funds to hire part-time math specialists or tutors, all of whom use at least some of their time providing challenges for high-performing students.
About half the teachers in the survey said they "sometimes" supplement the Everyday Mathematics curriculum with other materials, and about a third said they supplement at least weekly.
Fifth-grade teachers are exploring supplemental materials to make up for areas of the program "that are not as strong as we believe they should be," according to a report prepared by school district staff.
Special-education teachers also have asked for "supplemental materials that will best support the needs of their student population," the report said.
The school district continues to invest heavily in workshops, both in the summer and during the school year, to train teachers on how to best to use Everyday Mathematics.
In sessions planned for late February and early March, elementary principals will get instruction from a "math coach" on the best way to observe teachers and "help them develop and refine their practice."
Fifth- and sixth-grade teachers will meet in March to make sure students going from elementary to middle school -- where different materials are used -- will have a smooth transition in mathematics "language, rituals and routines."
District officials also said they are speaking with other high-performing districts that use Everyday Mathematics on ways of best using the material to challenge top performers.
Noting the continued gains in math as measured by standardized tests and the "high bar" set for teachers in using the new material, Associate Superintendent Virginia Davis reported to the school board, "We have carefully considered our needs around assessment to be sure teachers have what they need in order to meet the needs of each unique learner.
"We are listening to our teachers so we can provide the support needed for each learner to be successful," Davis said.
In April 2009, the school board adopted Everyday Mathematics by a 3-2 vote. The new materials were in classrooms for the beginning of the 2009-10 school year.
Also on Tuesday's agenda is a report on how Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget could affect the school district.
The district anticipates "flat funding" from the state if voters this June support a five-year extension of temporary tax increases approved in 2008.
If the tax extension is not approved, officials predict state funding cuts amounting to $330 per Palo Alto student, or $3.9 million to the district as a whole.
The public session of Tuesday's school board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. In a special meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the same room, the board will meet with principals to discuss "high-school plans for student achievement."