Their study revealed that the integrated math approach did in fact result in higher student achievement when compared to students enrolled in traditional math courses. It identified high schools that offered both traditional and integrated math courses. His team conducted 326 classroom observations and collected and controlled for a variety of student data, including demographics and achievement data.
“What we found was, despite controlling for all these different variables, the curriculum organization was a significant predictor of student outcomes,” Tarr said.
The study was funded by a National Science Foundation grant, which Tarr called an investment in a search for answers about effective math curricula.
Support for a more integrated and coherent math curriculum has been around for decades, and lately many proponents have pointed to high-achieving countries that operate with a more integrated school mathematics curriculum and boast high math achievement.
The Common Core State Standards do not take a position on a traditional math sequence versus an integrated approach, but offer resources aligned to both options.
“For me, math needs to be taught in a way that lets you see the connections among different topics,” said Fred Dillon, a past National Council of Teachers of Mathematics board member, former middle and high school math teacher, and a math consultant. “I try to do that anyway. While we’re looking at trigonometry we’re going to make a ramp for a skateboard, so we’ll tie that back to geometry.”
Dillon was part of an integrated math pilot in the 1990s and said that while some of his colleagues were not in favor of the integrated curriculum, others supported it. And teacher buy-in has much to do with how successful a program is.
“If a teacher isn’t sold on an approach, in any subject, it causes a disconnect,” he said.