Core-Plus Mathematics Project
Core-Plus Mathematics is a comprehensive high school mathematics program consisting of a four-year series of print and digital student textbooks and supporting materials for teachers, developed by the Core-Plus Mathematics Project at Western Michigan University, with funding from the National Science Foundation. Each text consists of a significant common core of mathematics and statistics for all students, plus extensions of core content to challenge the most motivated and able students. The Core-Plus development team consisted of mathematics educators, mathematicians, and statisticians from several U.S. universities.
From 1992 to 2015, several updated revisions and editions were developed with advice and contributions from curriculum developers, mathematics teachers, mathematicians, statisticians, and mathematics education researchers, informed by formative evaluation findings from field testing nationally in urban, suburban, and rural schools. The first edition, entitled Contemporary Mathematics in Context: A Unified Approach, was completed in 1999. The third edition, entitled Core-Plus Mathematics: Contemporary Mathematics in Context, was published by McGraw-Hill Education in 2015.
The first edition of Core-Plus Mathematics was designed to meet the curriculum, teaching, and assessment standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the broad goals outlined in the National Research Council report, Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education. Later editions were designed to also meet the American Statistical Association Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) and most recently the standards for mathematical content and practice in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM).
The program is a problem-based, technology-rich, four-year college-preparatory program with an emphasis on teaching and learning mathematics through mathematical modeling and mathematical inquiry. Each year, students learn mathematics in four interconnected strands: algebra and functions, geometry and trigonometry, statistics and probability, and discrete mathematical modeling.
Evaluations and Research
Project and independent evaluations and many research studies have been conducted on Core-Plus Mathematics, including content analyses, case studies, surveys, small- and large-scale comparison studies, research reviews, and a longitudinal study. A general trend is that Core-Plus Mathematics students performed significantly better than comparison students on assessments of conceptual understanding, problem solving, and applications, and results were mixed for performance on assessments of by-hand calculation skills.
For example, in 2013, three large-scale comparison studies of Core-Plus Mathematics and more conventional curricula were reported by independent researchers at the University of Missouri–Columbia. The research was reported in the March and July 2013 issues of the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education and in the December 2013 issue of the International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education. The three studies examined student achievement in schools in 5 geographically dispersed states. The first study involved 2,161 students in 10 schools in first-year high school mathematics courses, the second study involved 3,258 students in 11 schools in second-year mathematics courses, and the third study involved 2,242 students in 10 schools in third-year mathematics courses. Results in the first study showed that Core-Plus Mathematics students scored significantly higher on all three end-of-year outcome measures: a test of common objectives, a problem solving and reasoning test, and a standardized achievement test. Results in the second study showed that Core-Plus Mathematics students scored significantly higher on a standardized achievement test, with no differences on the other measures. Results in the third study showed that Core-Plus Mathematics students scored significantly higher on a test of common objectives, with no differences on the other measure.
Older comparative studies in peer-reviewed journals report that students using early versions of Core-Plus Mathematics did as well as or better than those in traditional single-subject curricula on all measures except paper-and-pencil algebra skills; students using the first field-test versions of Core-Plus Mathematics scored significantly better on tests of conceptual understanding and problem solving, while Algebra II students in conventional programs scored significantly better on a test of paper-and-pencil procedures; and Core-Plus Mathematics students displayed qualities such as engagement, eagerness, communication, flexibility, and curiosity to a much higher degree than did students who studied from more conventional programs. A review of research in 2008 concluded that there were modest effects for Core-Plus Mathematics on mostly standardized tests of mathematics.
With regard to achievement of students in minority groups, an early peer-reviewed paper documenting the performance of students from under-represented groups using Core-Plus Mathematics reported that at the end of each of Course 1, Course 2, and Course 3, the posttest means on standardized mathematics achievement tests of Core-Plus Mathematics students in all minority groups (African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Native/Alaskan Americans) were greater than those of the national norm group at the same pretest levels. Hispanics made the greatest pretest to posttest gains at the end of each course. A later comparative study reported that Hispanic high school students using Core-Plus Mathematics made modest gains compared to the performance of students with other demographic backgrounds.
Regarding preparation for college, studies of SAT and ACT test results reported that Core-Plus Mathematics students performed significantly better than comparison students on the SAT and performed as well on the ACT. Several studies examined the subsequent college mathematics performance of students who used different high school textbook series. These studies did not detect any differential effect of high school curriculum on placement in college mathematics courses, in subsequent performance, or in course-taking patterns.
In terms of core content development, a study comparing the development of quadratic equations in the Korean national curriculum and Core-Plus Mathematics found that some quadratic equation topics are developed earlier in Korean textbooks, while Core-Plus Mathematics includes more problems requiring explanations, various representations, and higher cognitive demand.
Mathematics programs initially developed in the 1990s that were based on the NCTM’s Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, like Core-Plus Mathematics, have been the subject of controversy due to their differences from more conventional mathematics programs. In the case of Core-Plus Mathematics, there has been debate about (a) the international-like integrated nature of the curriculum, whereby each year students learn algebra, geometry, statistics, probability, and discrete mathematical modeling, as opposed to conventional U.S. curricula in which just a single subject is studied each year, (b) a concern that students may not adequately develop conventional algebraic skills, (c) a concern that students may not be adequately prepared for college, and (d) a mode of instruction that relies less on teacher lecture and demonstration and more on inquiry, problem solving in contextualized settings, and collaborative work by students.
While discussion of these issues continues, a growing body of research (referenced above) has provided reassuring results about learning algebraic skills and college preparation and also suggests that Core-Plus Mathematics students are advantaged in terms of conceptual understanding, problem solving, and reasoning. An integrated high school mathematics curriculum is now increasingly recognized as the most common curriculum organization outside the U.S. and also acknowledged as a valid curriculum organizational structure in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics in the U.S. (e.g., CCSSI-Courses and Transitions). And classroom instruction that is more inquiry- and problem-solving-oriented is recognized as a viable instructional methodology.
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