Show Me the Study: Anacortes School District Adopts Discovery Math Curricula for K-12

How did the Anacortes School District (ASD) decide to ditch their Holt Mathematics text book curricula for high school in the fall of 2014 and replace it with Mathematics Vision Project, a discovery style Open Educational Resource (OER) that consists of a collection of worksheets? The ASD mistakenly accepted the notion that Washington State’s adoption of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) requires teachers to teach in a “Common Core way.” A group of AHS math teachers chose to pilot Mathematics Vision Project, an untested, unproven discovery style Integrated Math OER that the Office of the State of Public Instruction (OSPI) had reviewed due to the passage of HB 2337, which legislatively mandates OSPI to create a collection of OERs and “inform school districts about these resources.” The ASD’s decision to pilot MVP has forced the adoption of three new, controversial constructs: Failed “Discovery Learning” methodology, “Integrated Math Sequencing” and a confusing “Worksheet Curriculum” with no sample problems or depth.


Washington State’s Adoption of Common Core State Standards
Before Common Core, a March 11, 2009 High School Math Curriculum Study prepared by the Washington State Board of Education recommended Holt Mathematics for Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2. A sample from the student text (quadratic equations unit) looks like this: Washington State signed on to Common Core in July of 2011. “Common Core requires us to teach this way,” is the standard line district staff say when asked why the change to discovery style math teaching because of “the three primary changes to math standards, focus, coherence and rigor.” The Myths vs. Facts section of the CCSS site clearly states, “these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach.”

Discovery Style Teaching Methods
Several Studies compare teaching methods and clearly show that “Discovery or Constructivist” is highly problematic.

Discovery style teaching

Integrated Math Sequencing
As shown below, only 4 states have mandated “Integrated Math,” which integrated multiple topics into the same course. As of Feb 2016, however, three states have either removed or plan to remove the “Integrated Math” mandate (NC, WV, GA). This leaves Utah as the only “Integrated Math Mandate” state and there is rumbling that this will change:


The Washington State Legislature Promotes OERs
“In 2012, the Washington State Legislature directed OSPI to create a collection of openly licensed courseware aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and conduct an awareness campaign to inform school districts about these resources.” The Legislature saw this as an opportunity to both “reduce the expenses that districts would otherwise incur in purchasing these materials” and “provide districts and students with a broader selection of materials, and materials that are more up-to-date,” as explained in the Executive Summary of the Open Educational Resources Project. The 2013 OER Review Summary states, “The results of this review do not represent an endorsement from OSPI as to the recommended use or adoption of the OER materials that were reviewed,” and “OSPI does not require the use of any particular instructional materials, including OER, by districts or schools.”

OSPI Reviews MVP
OSPI requested submission of OER math curricula in 2013. Mathematics Vision Project’s creators complied, ‘In the MVP classroom the teacher launches a rich task and then through “teacher moves” encourages students to explore, question, ponder, discuss their ideas and listen to the ideas of their classmates.’ A sample from the student version (quadratic equations) look like this:


During the 2013 OER review of math curricula, OSPI hired 10 persons with math teaching experience to fill the paid curriculum review spots. Each was given several hours of assigned reading and one day of actual review training, Five were assigned to review each curriculum. MVP, listed as an Integrated Math, ranked high in the four categories shown below. MVP includes the positive part of MVP Materials Reviewed by Washington State 2013, the only review, at their site.

But something funny happened on the way to the web page: MVP neglected to mention that it ranked the lowest for Quality of Explanation of Subject Matter, scoring below “Limited.” And MVP didn’t even garner a rating for Quality of Technological Interactivity because there isn’t any. Additionally, the EQuIP Overall Rating of Needs Revision (1.4) is defined as, ” Aligned [with CCSS] partially and needs significant revision in one or more dimensions.”


The five reviewers answered the question, “I would use this in my classroom,” with Strongly Agree (1), Agree (3) and Disagree (1).

The biggest advocate (Strongly Agreed) included the following comments, “Much is required from the teacher to ensure that the attention to focus, coherence, and rigor result in achievement. There is much expected of the learner as well. The learner must internalize and exhibit many of the mathematical practices in order to productively engage in the work. Additionally, the course assumes that students enter the course with necessary prerequisite understanding and skills. Direction is given to teachers throughout the course to support students with conceptual deficits but aside from the first few units (modules) there are few supports provided students with procedural deficits…Led by a proficient teacher, and with additional assessments and practice exercises, this course could be outstanding. In its current state, in the hands of a basic teacher, it could flop.”

The most critical reviewer wrote, ‘it would be difficult for students to engage in the level of discussion required by the activities in a 50 minute period…The student text does not include clear explanations or examples, other than in the first two units. While the activities are really wonderful, the average student would not be able to work through this text and gain a clear understanding of the course. The links to other websites included in each homework assignment do provide explanation, but it would be helpful to see some examples in the text as well as summaries of the mathematical concepts that are addressed in each lesson. The format of the materials almost feels like a “flipped classroom.”’

And an “Agree” reviewer cautioned, “Most tasks that do cover items in the CCSS content standards tend to address multiple content standards though coverage is somewhat random and may touch upon many standards but not fully address any one single standard…”While the content coverage is weak and very little instructional support is provided many of the tasks do provide real-life contexts in which students are asked to consider open-ended situations and come up with solutions that have the potential to engage students in rich problem solving and help develop thinking skills in alignment with CCSS standards for mathematical practice…While the task creates opportunities for students to persevere in solving the problem and create their own graphic and mathematical models, use of this task in an actual classroom would require considerable teacher instruction to provide background understanding as well as scaffolding to allow diverse students to meet the objective of ultimately creating a graph and equation to model the situation. This example is typical of other tasks in the collection in that it asks students to engage in problem solving but does not provide instruction to support development of prerequisite skills nor scaffolding for diverse students…To bring this item into full alignment with CCSS and provide materials that would allow it to be used as a full curriculum would be a major undertaking.”

The Napa Valley Unified School District provides the only published side by side pilot of multiple math curricula that includes MVP. Twenty-five teachers piloted at least one of the three curricula: MVP, College Preparatory Mathematics and Center for Mathematics Education. The results: they recommended CME for Math 1, 2 and 3 (an integrated math approach). Votes against adoption of MVP: 61% of teacher responses, 78% of parents and 30% of students.

The Anacortes School District’s High School Math Curriculum Adoption Process
Between the completion of the 2013 OER Review of math materials and the fall of the 2014-2015 academic year, AHS math teachers chose to pilot Mathematics Vision Project for Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 and College Preparatory Mathematics for Geometry. During an Anacortes School Board meeting the first year of the pilot, the AHS Math Department shared the status of the pilot with board members, ‘This year students will be taken a CCSS-based math assessment, so math teachers advocated for using curriculum that is based on Common Core…Early in the year it became clear that students were struggling with learning math in a more “Common Core” way (more group work, deep thinking, justifying reasoning, and perseverance).’ Included was a list of parent/student concerns and possible ways to address those concerns and improve student learning.


In spite of concerns, the ASD chose to pilot the curricula for a second (2015-2016) year, and because one period was too short to get through the material, they doubled down on Algebra 1, making it a two-period class. I met with the principal and math chair on the last day of class of the 2014-2015 academic year when I learned that my daughter would be forced to attend this two-period MVP Algebra 1 class because I thought it would be too much and that she was being treated like a guinea pig.

In January of 2016, I met with the AHS math chair and principal to voice my concerns about my student’s experience in the two-period Algebra 1 MVP math class and find out how other students were performing with the curriculum. They were unwilling to provide data about AHS students’ performance in Algebra 1, even though this information had been shared publicly at past School Board meetings. They would only say that the Class of 2019 students’ poor performance this year was because they were a “low cohort,” and students who failed Algebra 1 at or before the end of the first semester had “failed in the past.” But I am a skeptic, so I checked the data. The 6th through 8th grade MSP and SBAC scores for Anacortes School District students in the Class of 2016 to Class of 2019 were, on average, about 25% above the Washington State average. Assuming students who failed Pre-Algebra would not be placed in Algebra this fall, the “failed in the past” could only have referred to the Class of 2019 pass rate on the SBAC, which was low (60% excluding no score) and would qualify 40% of Class of 2019 students as having “failed in the past.” This seems disingenuous. The SBAC is new, different and more rigorous than the MSP.


In Conclusion:
The ASD piloted, repiloted, re-repiloted and, in spite of our group’s anti-discovery math efforts, adopted MVP (and CPM) at the June 15, 2017, School Board Meeting. The District proudly points to student performance data on the SBA ELA and Math scores, which are above the state average, and the US News and World Report High School Ranking of #13 in the state with a mathematics proficiency rate of 44%. Cindy Simonsen, Director of Teaching and Learning in the ASD, assured me by email that, once adopted, “The algebra class at AMS will use the same materials as the high school algebra course,” yet, accelerated Anacortes Middle School students continue to use Holt while those who don’t take Algebra I until high school are forced to use one of two discovery-style curricula, MVP or Agile Mind for Algebra 1, and for all AHS students: CPM for Geometry and MVP for Algebra 2. More recently, in response to continuing complaints about a lack of homework help, the ASD paid to have a list of MVP lessons followed by links to math help sites. Eventually, they forked out funds for MVP’s Helps, Hints and Explanations workbook. And then there are those hundreds, more likely thousands, of dollars in copy costs to print the online MVP “curriculum” for student use. The “free” curriculum, turns out to be not so free.

In the ASD, the pendulum has swung to its maximum distance in the wrong direction, using Discovery-style teaching for K-12 except in 8th grade Algebra 1 and High School Pre-Calculus, AP Calculus A/B and Statistics and Edmentum online learning for Cap Sante Students. The District is currently considering options for 6th to 12th grade math, but things aren’t likely to change, mathwise, at least until the 2021-2022 school year. Until then, The ASD’S Math Caste System Continues.

2019-2020 Annual District Goals

(Note: Scott Smith contributed to this post)

4 thoughts on “Show Me the Study: Anacortes School District Adopts Discovery Math Curricula for K-12

  1. Julee, Thank you for this excellent article. I am a parent of a 10th grader in Cary, NC (near Raleigh). Our school system (Wake County, 14th largest in the nation) has rolled out MVP math to all its Math 1-2 classes. Math 3 was optional this year (50% of schools did it anyway), but is mandatory next year.

    It has been an utter disaster for us because students are not learning. I will spare you all the details, as I’m sure you’ve heard them elsewhere. The school system is tone-deaf to parent’s complaints and the declining in-class grades. They’re hiding behind confidentiality regarding reporting and are forcing the teachers through more scrutiny because they apparently didn’t implement MVP correctly if there are problems. Parents are writing letters to school system and school board, but they are doubling down and standing behind MVP and its methods.

    I was wondering if there have been any new insights or data to you over the past 3 years about MVP? We’ve been in touch with another MVP failure at Berkeley High School, but wonder if you have any new cases of success or failure of MVP we could learn from?

    • Hi Blain,
      Thank you so much for your message. I’ve sent you a reply via email and I’m going to look at the data from our District in the next week or so. It has been in use for nearly 5 years now. At the same time, our state testing standards (and tests) have changed, so sifting through the data and figuring out what it all means is a little tricky. I’m on it! I’ll let you know what I find out. Best of luck as you try to push the MVP boulder uphill. What seems universal is the fact that districts, once they’ve chosen it, refuse to back down. They are extremely good at putting a good spin on the data. And in our district, year after year parents complain but as each group’s kids moved on, a new group forms that isn’t aware of the old group or its efforts. It’s frustrating.

  2. Pingback: Nation’s 16th Biggest District Spends More Than a Million to Implement “Free” Discovery High School Mathematics Curriculum | Island Unseen

  3. Pingback: The ASD’s Math Caste System Continues | Island Unseen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s