Sunday, June 9, 2013

2012-2013 Year in Review: Middle School Math -- Implications and Concerns for the Future

Now that 3 quarters of data on the 2012-2013 Middle School rapid acceleration model has been presented, enough is known to raise questions and concerns about whether this plan was successful or in the best interests of all of the students who participated.  
Dr. Schuster admitted during the May board meeting that students were allowed to stay in the course even if they did not maintain the 80%. She also reported in February that some students had dropped down, but said it was less than 10.  When she provides the 4th quarter data, she should also report how many students participated in the program,  the percentage that did not complete it, the percentage of students who did not maintain an 80% for more than one quarter, and the percentage of students who did maintain an 80% for at least 3 quarters.

Then it needs to address the following questions:

1.  Why did the administration, in prior years, insist that students in advanced or accelerated math classes maintain an 80%?  What was the rationale for this requirement?

2.  Why would the administration allow students who dropped below the 80% to remain in the Rapid Acceleration 8th grade algebra course, if for years the district had enforced this cut-off for advanced or accelerated students?

3.  Did students who averaged below 80% performance for more than one quarter really master basic algebra concepts?

4.  Will these students only enroll in regular geometry -- which is not an honors course -- and thus lose any "advantage" parents were hoping to give them through this acceleration?

5.  Will these students be at a disadvantage in high school to students from other feeder schools that required one full year of pre-algebra and the maintenance of a B average to complete Algebra in middle school?

6.  Will these students struggle in high school geometry, or worse yet, in Algebra 2 Trigonometry, that requires a solid algebra foundation?  And will this then lower their self-esteem and/or confidence in high school?

These questions are not only relevant for this year's 8th grade students who took Algebra 1, but should be asked as the Advanced Learning Plan roles out, which will allow or lead to all students taking Algebra by 8th grade.  Next year, incoming 6th grade students who did not place into advanced or accelerated math will be allowed to OPT UP a level, just by asking.  Seventh and 8th grade students who want to OPT UP a level will have to go through an RTI process, which allows for subjective decisions to be made by teachers and parents about the students' readiness to accelerate.  The problem with that is that there needs to be a consistently applied rubric -- district wide -- with NO exceptions being made for any student, in order not to compromise the integrity of the ALP.

As more students complete the compacted elementary math curriculum that is being rolled out, with the plan calling for all incoming 6th graders to take (at a minimum) 7th grade math and all completing (at a minimum) Algebra in 8th grade, what data will be collected and analyzed to determine if students are actually graduating from 8th grade with a solid foundation in algebra that will allow them to be competitive against students from the other feeder schools and allow them to place into the Honors track at the high school?  On May 20, Dr. Schuster stated that beginning next year, students will only need to maintain a 70% to remain in their math level?  What data or rationale exists to support this reduction in performance criteria?

Speed is not always better.  Sometimes slow and steady wins the race.  Hopefully the administration will not simply want to rush to the finish line, ignoring the fact that once there, some students might collapse.

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