"It's very frustrating to sit there and help your child with his homework," said Edgell, a parent of a rising sixth-grader. "It shouldn't have to be frustrating."
Her frustration stems from looking last year at fifth-grade math problems that don't resemble the elementary classwork she remembers.
What Edgell and other adults learned during their math classes has gone out the window when it comes to the Everyday Math program that is gaining popularity throughout York County elementary schools.
Multiplication is performed using formulas called partial products or the lattice method. Adding and subtracting are done left to right.
"It should only take five seconds to do, but it takes five minutes," Edgell said of some math problems her son does for classwork.
School officials in Everyday Math-using districts, however, tell a different story. They say Everyday Math students are better mathematicians and better prepared to do higher-level math.
The program offers online support for parents, teachers and students, and plenty of real-life examples to help students understand, educators said.
At Southern York School District, math test scores are increasing since Everyday Math was introduced three years ago. And fewer elementary students need math tutoring.
"Results speak volumes. The only difference that we see is that we implemented a different curriculum," by using Everyday Math, said Southern Superintendent Tom Hensley.
Results mixed: But an analysis of York County and state test scores shows Everyday Math is likely neither the
stumbling block nor the achievement boost both sides of the issue claim.
Eight York County school districts have implemented Everyday Math since 2002, but their students have not scored much better than non-users on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment math tests in recent years.
Around the state, 81 of 501 public school districts use Everyday Math with mixed results on improving PSSA scores among elementary school students.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, districts are judged by the percentage of students who score at the proficient or advanced level on the PSSAs, indicating they can do at least grade-level work.
A comparison of PSSA scores for third- and fifth-graders from 2005 and 2007 shows the following:
---In York County, seven of the eight districts using Everyday Math showed gains in fifth-graders scoring proficient or better. Only five of eight non-users did.
---In York County, users and non-users each had two districts that showed gains in third-graders.
---Statewide, a higher percentage of districts using Everyday Math showed gains in fifth-graders.
---Statewide, a higher percentage of non-users showed gains in third-graders.
Reaction: Supporters of the program defend the mixed results by saying it can take several years for a district to implement a new program before seeing results. The average year of implementation around the state is 2002, and around York County it's 2004.
Another issue is that questions on the PSSA don't check a student's awareness of how they arrived at an answer as much as Everyday Math does, said Rita Iati, a former math coach at South Western School District.
"They are still testing the right answer. They're not understanding whether or not the kids have a better understanding of why they got the answer," said Iati, who helped South Western teachers with Everyday Math lessons. She now works for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit.
Hanover Assistant Superintendent Wesley Doll said success can also depend on how well the program is implemented. Hanover is considering adding the program.
"If we take time to implement it the correct way, provide time for teachers to be trained and learn from the pitfalls of other districts, I feel fairly confident we can show some success," Doll said.
National reviews: The PSSA results reflect some of the national research done on Everyday Math. In a review performed by Johns Hopkins University researchers, available through the state Department of Education, Everyday Math is found to have "limited evidence of effectiveness."
The U.S. Department of Education, which approves of the program, has a review available that was performed by the What Works Clearinghouse, a department-sponsored research group. After a review, the clearinghouse found Everyday Math "to have potentially positive effects on math achievement."
Educators in Everyday Math districts said they support the program for reasons other than test score impact.
Evidence of success: Students don't simply learn how to get the right answer, said Southern's Hensley. They are taught how to analyze all sides of the problem.
"I think those are skills anyone would want students to have," Hensley said.
South Western's Iati said the methods used when adults were taught math relied more on memorization of formulas. Everyday Math shows students multiple ways to arrive at an answer.
"What Everyday Math tries to do is take away the mysteriousness from the procedure," Iati said.
Hanover's Doll said he's heard districts experience a bump in student achievement in the secondary levels after those students went through Everyday Math.
"When (students) enter the more advanced math classes, they are able to apply the skills and knowledge they learned," Doll said.
Drawbacks: All of those potential benefits aren't enough to lure other York districts to join the more than 175,000 classrooms around the country using it.
For one, it's necessary to hold parent programs so parents can understand the concepts being taught, and teachers must be trained.
There's also a No Child Left Behind law deadline in 2014 that has some districts wary of implementing a radically different program right now. By 2014, districts must have each student scoring at 100 percent proficiency on state standardized tests.
"I would not be in favor of drastic changes. The timeframe between now and 2014 is so close. We have to have a laser beam focus," said Ron Dyer, assistant superintendent at Dallastown Area School District, a non-Everyday Math user.
With mixed opinions on the program's effectiveness and standardized test results proving inconclusive, the decision to use Everyday Math may come down to personal preference.
"It's a program that makes sense. It really does focus on the hierarchy of math," said Southern Assistant Superintendent Julie Szymaszek.
But the Johns Hopkins review includes one sentence that may very well summarize the finnicky nature of choosing the right math program: "The findings of this review suggest that educators as well as researchers might do well to focus more on how mathematics is taught, rather than expecting that choosing one or another textbook by itself will move their students forward."
-- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431 or ashaw@
PSSA gains statewide
Statewide, 81 school districts use Everyday Math; 420 school districts do not. Here's a look at the percentage of districts in each category that showed gains on student performance in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) math tests. A district showed a gain if a higher percentage of students scored proficient or better on the PSSAs.
---Improvement in proficiency between third-grade scores in 2005 and third-grade scores in 2007:
Everday Math users: 28 percent of districts.
Non-users: 35 percent of districts.
---Improvement between fifth-grade scores in 2005 and fifth-grade scores in 2007:
Everyday Math users: 63 percent of districts.
Non-users: 56 percent of districts
---Improvement between third-grade scores in 2005 and fifth-grade scores in 2007:
Everyday Math users: 5 percent
Non-users: 8 percent