ShareThis Page

Some parents say elementary math system used by Mt. Lebanon neglects basic skills

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:41 p.m.

Mt. Lebanon schools will continue to use an elementary school math program that some parents say doesn't teach enough traditional calculation methods. But administrators will examine where teachers and parents identify gaps in their students' knowledge.

The “Investigations in Number, Data and Space” curriculum, first adopted in 2007-08, bothered some parents who say it neglects traditional algorithms — long division, or carrying and borrowing in addition, multiplication and subtraction — in favor of breaking problems into pieces. That means multiplying and adding whole, round numbers, then recombining those results for the answers.

“It falls on the parents to teach U.S. algorithms at home,” said Jeff Woods, representing concerned parents who attended Monday's school board meeting.

“Currently addition and subtraction algorithms aren't introduced until the fourth grade; multiplication and division algorithms are not taught until the fifth grade ... Our concern is that's too late.”

Woods presented studies questioning the effectiveness of the program and he dismissed data the district cited to support the program, saying they had problems including being insufficiently independent.

The nearly 75 parents who attended the meeting at the Jefferson Middle School Library said they don't want the district to drop the math program, they just want to balance it with other methods. District math curriculum leaders at the meeting detailed why they feel the Investigations program is better for students than traditional math programs because it focuses on a deeper understanding of number rules, properties and basic operations, makes students more “mathematically literate” and offers multiple ways to solve problems.

Traditional algorithms are taught as one of many problem-solving methods, the math curriculum leaders said.

For example, “71 times 4” might be broken up into 7 times 4 times 10, plus 4; or 71 times 2 plus 71 times 2.

“The dialogue from students on a daily basis, the depth to which they take it, is amazing,” said Kim Robbins, an elementary math teacher. “They're using mathematically literate language, they're having fun, and they're learning — our test scores say they're learning.”

Lincoln Elementary Principal Marybeth Irvin said the schools follow state standards for skills that students must master for standardized tests.

The district will work with parents, teachers and math coaches at the seven elementaries to identify if the program is taught differently among schools or if gaps develop in students' skills.

Board president Elaine Cappucci said she would give district officials time to answer questions Woods raised about test scores related to the program and justification for its use.

“(District staff) would not bring us a math program that would produce failure,” Cappucci said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.