In response to criticism concerning the Cortez Math program being implemented in schools across Mecklenburg County, Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thornton gave a lengthy and detailed presentation on the program at Monday’s regular school board meeting.
The presentation came at the request of school board members.
Cortez Math is a computer-based instructional program that’s currently being fully implemented at Park View and Bluestone middle schools and at the high school level in Algebra I and Geometry at Park View and Bluestone high schools, as well as Algebra II at Bluestone High School.
Thornton said the plan is for all students in these classes to complete 100 percent of the Cortez curriculum, which would give them a 92 percent chance of passing their respective math SOLs.
“The numbers don’t lie,” he said “Data does not lie. However, you must finish the program if you expect to get the results that you are paying for.”
The program, which is tailored for math students in Virginia and approved by the Virginia Department of Education, is costing the school system $319,000 to fully implement.
Thornton said he chose the program when he was school superintendent in Cumberland County, and it proved successful. He also noted that other public school divisions in Virginia that are using the program, such as Southampton County and Petersburg City, are happy with Cortez’s results, noting the SOL pass rates in math in these school systems are in the 90 percent range.
Thornton was adamant that as long as students complete the 40-lesson program, SOL pass rates should be around 90 percent. He also noted among students who complete 80 percent of the program’s curriculum, pass rates for SOLS are around 75 percent.
He mentioned that Mecklenburg County did partially implement the program in the seventh grade at both middle schools several years ago, and the program produced SOL pass rates in the 80 percent range.
“The program did what we wanted it to,” Thornton said.
Thornton explained that after the single year of implementation, due to budget constraints the program had to be dropped and replaced with a less costly alternative that also proved less effective.
“The goal was to find a similar program with similar results, yet reduce the cost,” he said. He noted that the program ICANLEARN Math was implemented and resulted in a “considerable drop” in math SOL scores.
“In subsequent years we have had continued problems with our math SOLs,” he said, providing evidence for the statement.
As a result, research was done to determine a fix for the low scores, and Cortez was brought to the table once again.
Thornton told the board the Cortez Math program involves “blended curriculum,” meaning students spend 40 percent of their instructional time (or two school days) on the computer and 60 percent of their instructional time (or three days out of the school week) receiving traditional instruction from the teacher.
Thornton also discussed smaller programs within Cortez Math that could provide a customized fit for Mecklenburg County students’ needs.
While many positives regarding implementation of the program were discussed, Thornton also discussed negative feedback associated with the program, including teachers being weary that so much instructional time is provided via computer.
Thornton admitted he was once wary of the program for the same reason. Teachers not just in Mecklenburg but other areas in Virginia have expressed concern about the program for its lack of traditional teaching methods.
That is, until the data comes in and student improvements are obvious, he said.