Digits, a computer-based math pilot program for 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Orland School District 135 schools, continues to draw complaints from parents, and now board members also are expressing doubts.
“It is imperative that kids, especially girls, excel at math,” said board member Lynne Donegan, whose daughter is in 7th grade within the district, at the Oct. 15 school board meeting. “I have serious concerns with the Digits program. My daughter was a B math student heading into the seventh grade. Now, she’s failing.
“As a parent, the last thing you need to hear is psycho babble about why your child is failing. Digits may be a good program for taking tests on computers, but it is seriously lacking in the human element. They are kids not machines.”
Donegan said the program has been plagued by computer glitches, serious lack of communication between parents and math teachers and failure of the program vendor to deliver on promised guidebooks for parents. She said the program is not administered the same from school to school and parents without computer training are hard-pressed to help their students with the program.
Donegan’s concerns were echoed by two parents who also addressed the board on Oct. 15 and criticized other aspects, particularly a 45-minute time limit on math homework.
School board President John Carmody also said he saw problems with the Digits program.
“Digits should be an adjunct part of the math curriculum, not the be all,” he said. “It seems to be far beyond what it should be. It has become a much bigger problem than it should be.”
“We went with Digits because we felt we had an obligation to find a product to help our students close the gap in mathematics,” said Paul Howell, D135 director of curriculum. “Digits was one of four programs reviewed by teachers and we selected it because it addressed Common Core standards that will be required starting in 2014.”
A group of nine teachers and eight administrators researched possible pilots in spring, settling on Digits, as it was the only program designed with the Common Core standards in mind, D135 Interim Superintendent Carol Kunst said Friday.
"There were very limited resources available at the time," Kunst said. "The teachers really felt a professional obligation to do something as opposed to waiting for everything to unfold down the line."
The Digits program was presented to the board at the June 11 board meeting, and uses real world applications to teach math. Students do a majority of their work and take their tests on computers.
“People need to remember this is a pilot program,” said board member Mary Bragg on Oct. 15. “It has good potential but there are lots of kinks in the system that need to be worked out. That’s what a pilot program is for.”
So far, only two students out of 900 in the Digits program have been reassigned to other math classes, according to staff.
“Taking them out of the program isn’t the answer,” Bragg said. “Making it work right is the answer.”
She said the board was looking ahead to 2014 when Common Core standards kick in when they voted to approve Digits as a pilot program.
“Digits was the only program that addressed Common Core standards,” she said. “We are trying to be ahead of the game.”
Illinois is one of 45 states that have adopted Common Core standards to measure student achievement starting in 2014. Common Core will replace the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) to measure student scores in language arts, math, science and social science.
Adequate Yearly Progress Update
On a related note, Powell reviewed the district’s Adequate Yearly Progress in reading and math with board members during the Oct. 15 meeting.
He said Centennial, Prairie and High Point elementary schools met or exceeded their AYP targets for 2012.
Center, Century Jr. High, Jerling Jr. High, and Meadow Ridge schools were considered to have failed but only because of deficiencies in subgroup categories, according to Powell.
“If a school failed in any category, it was considered to not be in compliance,” Powell said.
Center School failed because its disabled students missed their target for reading and math and its economically disadvantaged students missed their mark in reading.
Century Junior High and Jerling Junior High were downgraded because their disabled students missed their target in math.
Meadow Ridge failed because its disabled students missed their target in math and its disadvantaged students missed their mark in reading.
Park Elementary met its math target but fell short of its reading target, Powell said.
“Park scored 78.2 percent in reading but its target was 85 percent,” Powell said. “We focus on before and after school programs to encourage students. Teachers assign extra homework in trouble areas and we monitor more closely the students in those classes.”
Orland Park Patch Editor Ben Feldheim contributed to this report.
Looking for more school stories?
- D146 Staffers Pound the Pavement for Walk to School Day (Photos)
- UPDATED: Parents to D135: Make Math Pilot an Opt-In Program