MVP Math = content + skills: A formula for workforce readiness and student success

There’s a common theme that comes through frequently as WakeEd interacts with dozens of business leaders around the Triangle: they need a ready workforce. Readiness means more than credentials and content knowledge, however. Business leaders almost unanimously say they need employees who can work in teams, convey information, perform analysis and solve problems.

In education-speak, those skills are referred to as the Four C’s: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. While the Four C’s may sound like the latest fancy buzz-term in education, it is not. As the Information Age has evolved, the Four C’s have emerged as the critical skills needed in the workplace. The education community has responded in the way teachers structure their classrooms and lessons, the way schools arrange their schedules and programming, and the way curriculum publishers design their content, scope, and sequence.

\"\"In short, educating students in rows of desks and giving them rote tasks and information to memorize does not resemble the workplaces they will eventually enter. Rows and rote tasks were acceptable for the jobs of the 20th century, but the 21st century jobs require a collaborative learning environment.

Employers are emphatic about the difficulty they have finding employees who possess Four C skills, often referred to as soft skills. They’re called soft because, while they can be taught and practiced, they can’t be measured. For many employers, they would be more likely to hire someone with a little less experience or content knowledge if that person appeared more adept than other candidates at those soft skills during the recruitment process.

The Wake County Public School System, the largest in North Carolina, began incorporating soft skills into its instructional materials about a decade ago. The effort really began with earnest when the Four C’s became part of the district’s mission statement in its Vision 2020 Strategic Plan: “Wake County Public School System will provide a relevant and engaging education and will graduate students who are collaborative, creative, effective communicators and critical thinkers.”

Since then, the school system has endeavored to adopt new curriculum resources to align with the mission statement. It hasn’t been an easy task considering the state has made multiple changes to the academic standards, which dictate what schools will teach in which grades and subjects.

The subject with some of the most significant changes was high school mathematics. Most recently, this subject has been the focus of parent feedback to the Wake County school board.

During the public comment period of the school board meetings, a small, but vocal, group of parents have said they believe the recently adopted curriculum from Utah-based Mathematics Vision Project is not meeting their children’s needs and may, in their words, be hurting their children’s post-secondary success. Specifically, parents have told the board that they believe their children’s grades and opinions about math have been negatively affected, and they also have reported hiring tutors and spending additional hours on homework and studying.

The parents also made formal complaints to the school system about the curriculum, and an internal review by school staff found that the curriculum procurement process was followed properly. The school board recently affirmed those findings with its own review of the process.

See full presentation: WCPSS School Board Meeting June 18, 2019

The school board does not choose curriculum, but it does take student achievement very seriously. Data presented at a recent school board meeting showed an uptick in student achievement among students who were using MVP Math in Wake County. It was enough to show that more time is needed to improve implementation. Therefore, the school board contracted with the national firm MGT Consulting Group to conduct an independent audit of MVP Math within WCPSS which will include surveys of students and staff, analysis of student work, classroom visits, data and curriculum review, and focus groups of students, staff, and parents.

The school system is also engaging community partners in this process. WakeEd, an independent organization, collaborated earlier this summer with school system staff to convene business leaders for a review of the MVP curriculum. The consensus was clear that the math is sound, and it is built upon the very skills they want to see in their employees: The Four C’s.

MVP Math, an open-source curriculum, teaches the content knowledge that can be measured and the skills that cannot. It is teacher-led and student-driven. Instead of lectures that teach algorithms followed by 20 practice problems for homework, MVP is designed around collaborative problem-solving. Students are encouraged to work in groups the way they will in the workplace. They must think critically to work through the scenarios that explore math concepts to develop creative, but correct, solutions to the problems. None of this can be done without communication.

The math curriculum also has one of the highest ratings from an independent curriculum review organization EdReports. This Durham-based company engages curriculum experts from around the country to examine educational materials from most publishers. MVP Math received very high ratings for “Focus & Coherence” and “Mathematical Practices”. It did receive a middling rank for “Usability”.

However, as EdReports Executive Director Eric Hirsch and Senior Math Content Specialist Tim Truitt noted in a recent conversation with WakeEd, the usability score indicates it takes more professional development for teachers to properly implement MVP Math. Knowing this, WCPSS provided staff development for the past two school years and will continue in earnest again this school year.

WakeEd believes that MVP Math is the right curriculum for WCPSS students at this time, but there is more work to do. With the curriculum audit and additional staff development, the potential grows for MVP Math to show results for student achievement. Most importantly, WCPSS will increase the number of students it graduates who are “collaborative, creative, effective communicators and critical thinkers.”
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