AMERICAN FORK — The Alpine School District's controversial math program — Investigations in Number, Data and Space — will soon be history.

The 56,000-student school district will purchase new textbooks at its 46 elementary schools for next fall, and so-called "Investigations math" is not on the list of possibilities because its newest publish date did not make the state's list of "recommended materials" of books that may be used for primary instruction.

"We're not going to ignore the state on this matter," said Barry Graff, the district's administrator of K-12 educational services. "The state has said, 'Here's what we think is to be the appropriate primary curricular materials.' We will go with whatever (they) have on (their) adoption list."

A committee of principals and teachers met in the fall and studied books on the Utah State Office of Education list with publish dates of 2005, 2006 and 2007 — newer editions so the district does not have to purchase subsequent editions for several years, Graff said.

The textbook list will be narrowed down to two by the end of February, Graff said.

The committee will chose one book that teaches math with traditional methods and one that uses "standards-based" methods.

Standards-based math refers to a handful of concepts identified as necessary for students to learn by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1989. It advocates nontraditional teaching methods such as arriving at answers through group work, reflection and drawing pictures to produce deeper levels of understanding and a love for math.

Investigations math is a standards-based curriculum.

Parents, teachers and principals at each school will choose which textbook program they want in March, and the district will order materials for the fall.

Graff estimates the new books will cost the district $2.5 million to $3 million.

All but 10 of the district's elementary schools had implemented Investigations math in classrooms by 2001.

The program drew criticism from parents because students did not have textbooks, which made it difficult for parents to help students with homework, which consisted of worksheets.

Throughout the years, the Board of Education released statements advocating traditional math taught alongside Investigations math, and by last year, Graff estimated about half of students' math work was traditional.

In November 2005, state lawmakers ordered a study of the math curriculum. A statewide committee of professors, teachers and administrators will make recommendations for changes in the math curriculum to the Utah State Board of Education in June.

Carolyn Hamilton, an Orem mother who is also chairwoman of the math department at Utah Valley State College, said she worked with her children at home because she did not think they were learning much with Investigations math.

In the fall, she pulled her two youngest children out of the district and enrolled them at a charter school that uses Saxon Math.

"They don't learn their times tables" with Investigations math, Hamilton said. "They'll make tally marks instead. Instead of having timed drills on the times tables, they show them how to rework the problem every single time. So if they do eight times three, they'll draw three sets of eight tally marks and count them back up."

Damon Bahr, an elementary math education professor at Brigham Young University whose wife is a kindergartner teacher in the Alpine District, advocates the "balanced approach" of traditional and standards-based math, citing research that shows students with deep understanding learn math faster and remember it longer.

Comment on this story

"So here's the deal: People criticized the previous versions of Investigations because it was sort of heavy on the why part of math — that's the conceptual part — but (was) a little week on the how part — the algorithms and the basic facts," Bahr said. "And they also criticized it because parents couldn't help the kids ... The new version, the 2006 version, has addressed all of those issues."

Ken Mayer, a spokesman for TERC, the research and development group based in Cambridge, Mass., that authors Investigations math, is disappointed that the state does not recommend Investigations.

The new edition of Investigations math features a student handbook "that is for students and families," Mayer said. "This is a reference book that's carefully referenced so when you're doing your activities and your homework, you have the student handbook that will refer (to the lesson)."


E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com