Monday, June 24, 2013

Dr. Schuster's "Report" on the 8th Grade Algebra Students' High School Placements for 2013-2014

This evening, we received the following "Comment" from Yvonne Mayer, to the June 9, 2013 Posts on Middle School Math.  Mrs. Mayer is a current D181 and D86 parent and taxpayer and served on the D181 School Board from 2009-2013. With her permission, we are publishing this comment as a stand-alone post because we believe it addresses important observations and questions regarding the Algebra data presented by Dr. Schuster in her 6/24/13 Board Doc's Superintendent's Report, and that was discussed during tonight's meeting.   We thank Mrs. Mayer for her willingness to publish her name.  (You can access Dr. Schuster's report and data referenced in Mrs. Mayer's comment by clicking on the following links:  6/24/13 Superintendent's Report ; 6/24 Board Docs' Board Members' Q&A's)

Mrs. Mayer's Comment:

After reading the 8th Grade Algebra update in Dr. Schuster's 6/24/13 Superintendent's report,  and her answers to Board Member Garg's questions also on Board Docs, and listening to tonight's Board  discussion, I would like to address the data she presents on the 4th quarter performance and high school placement recommendations for these students.   I think Dr. Schuster left many important questions unanswered, and the mis-impression that these students have now improved their competitive edge when they apply to college.

According to Dr. Schuster's report, there were 72 students who completed the 8th grade full year Algebra course.  The 4th quarter average was only 80.12%.  Once again, the "average" was barely above the 80%"cut-off" that was required in previous years for students to stay in this class.  This should concern parents because in order to be successful in high school math -- such as Algebra 2 Trigonometry (either non-honors or honors), you need to have a solid Algebra foundation.  As a parent of 3 students who have already taken Honors Algebra 2 Trigonometry at Hinsdale Central , and is familiar with the performance issues students taking this course have faced, I can say with certainty that unless a student has mastered Algebra 1 concepts, they will not do well in Algebra 2 Trigonometry, their self-esteem will be negatively impacted and their ability to be successful in the higher level math courses will be put in jeopardy.

Dr. Schuster reports on the actual 4th quarter grades the 72 students received:  15 A's, 30 B's, 17 C's and "fewer than 10" each of D's and F's.   Simple math calculations show that 10 students got D's or F's in the 4th quarter -- 14% of the students.  If you look at the Board Member Q&A's posted on tonight's Board Docs, Board Member Garg asks for the the 3rd quarter grades:  13 A's, 42 B's, 15 C's and "fewer than 10 each of D's and F's.   If you assume that 72 students were in this class during the 3rd quarter, then this means that only 2 got D's or F's.  Dr. Schuster refused, however, to directly answer Ms. Garg's question.  Regardless, what this shows is that the majority of the students' performance went DOWN from 3rd to 4th quarter.  During tonight's meeting, Ms. Garg pointed this out.

While 2 more students got A's in the 4th quarter, there were 12 fewer B's, 2 more C's and 8 more D's and F's.  That is not a good sign and doesn't leave a good feeling with parents who want to see consistent performance by students and not a decline of this magnitude.  The way the grade data is presented is also incomplete.  Just using a "B" as an example, a student will get a B if they get anywhere from an 80% to an 89%.  That is a wide swing, and it would be more transparent for Dr. Schuster to provide the grade data with +'s and -'s included for all the grade levels.

Dr. Schuster then presented the high school placement data,  first for all 439 8th graders and then for the 72 full year algebra students.  By only completing Algebra in middle school, the 72 students cannot take Algebra 2 Trig Honors (or non-honors, which isn't on the chart), let alone Pre-Calculus, as Freshmen.  Yet, Dr. Schuster left the impression that such placements are possible by stating that less than 1% (fewer than 10 students) placed into each of these levels. Again, simple math calculations show that 1 percent of 72 students is less than one student or ZERO!  So why not simply give that number?

Similarly, Dr. Schuster stated that fewer than 1% placed into the entry level high school math classes that precede Algebra 1.  Again, that means ZERO -- which is a good thing, so why not just say so?

Focusing on the 3 levels that the 72 students were recommended to be placed into as Freshmen, 18% (13) were recommended to repeat Algebra 1, 72% or 51 were recommended for regular Geometry and 11% (fewer than 10) placed into Honors Geometry.  Simple math calculations shows that the 11% = 8 students.

I was thrilled to read that 8 students actually were recommended for placement into Honors Geometry, but during tonight's meeting, the question was asked about the grades that the students had received in Algebra.  Dr. Schuster would not report whether any of these students had lower than an 80% average, and said the recommended placement was based upon the Explorer test and teacher recommendations.  I hope the students actually mastered the Algebra concepts.  This would require higher than an 80%.  

In the answer to a pre-meeting question posed by Ms. Garg on the math placement data, Dr. Schuster stated that "the critical question is: what is the percentage of students who successfully complete Algebra by the end of 8th grade so they are able to complete Calculus by Grade 12?"  In the ALP presentations made to the board by Dr. Schuster's administration in 2012, the power points referenced the college applications of Harvard, Stanford and University of Michigan.  The suggestion was that by accelerating more students and having more complete algebra in 8th grade, we would make them more competitive applicants  to place into such colleges.  During tonight's board meeting, Dr. Schneider echoed this when he said: the "ultimate goal is to create as many post-secondary options for seniors as possible.  Greater percentage of kids who have options.  As many choices to them as possible."

If that is the stated goal, does the data on the 8th grade Algebra students actually show that more post-secondary options have been created for them?  In my opinion, that is the wrong question to ask at this early stage.  The first question is whether the students who completed the 8th grade Algebra course MASTERED algebra concepts.  If students received grades of C, D or F and were still placed into Geometry or Honors Geometry as freshmen, then it is likely that they did not master Algebra and will be at a disadvantage when they take either Algebra 2 Trigonometry or Honors Algebra 2 Trigonometry in high school as sophomores.  D181 needs to track their performance data as they progress through high school and make regular presentations to the board.  The second question is whether placing into the non-honors math track at Hinsdale Central High school -- those students who will be taking regular Geometry -- actually creates a disadvantage for these students over those who will take Algebra 1 as freshmen, master the material and then continue in the more rigorous honors track sophomore, junior and senior year?

During tonight's board meeting, Ms. Garg addressed the first issue of mastery and Mr. Heneghan  addressed  the second question of what is needed for students to be competitive applicants for admission into the highest level colleges.  Anyone in the community who has had a student apply to college, especially the highly competitive schools such as University of Michigan, Stanford or Harvard, knows the importance that these schools place on students having taken the most rigorous track that is available at the local high school for each subject area.  

Moreover, taking non-honors math courses will have a negative impact on the students' grade point averages, because non-honors math courses are only given up to 5 points toward the GPA (5 for an A, 4 for a B, 3 for a C, etc.) while honors courses are given up to 6 points toward the GPA (6 for an A, 5 for a B, 4 for a C, etc.).  Students who have been admitted to the highest level colleges (and were not admitted as committed athletes) were required to have grade points in excess of 5.3, with those admitted into the Ivy Leagues or Ivy League equivalents having grade points in excess of 5.7. That is not feasible if you take non-honors classes.   All of this data is available on the Hinsdale Central High School Naviance system, which tracks the grade point averages of all the HCHS students who applied, were accepted, wait-listed, rejected and then enrolled at every college in the country.  D181 should be reviewing such data before its administrators make sweeping declarations that they have created a math program that will open the door for more students to be admitted into these schools.

By pushing 72 students ahead into 8th grade algebra, with 72% of them only placing into the less rigorous non-honors math track, the data from the high school should be analyzed to establish how many students who were admitted into the Ivy League colleges, or top 20 colleges in the nation, were admitted as non-athletic admits having only taken non-honors math classes.  Taking Calculus as a senior may not be the key that opens the door for admission into these high level colleges. That is not, however, data that the administration seems to have requested or presented to the D181 Board.  It should.  

What may be more important for each individual student is to educate them in solid Pre-Algebra or Algebra foundations, only advance students into Geometry in either 8th grade or as freshmen who have mastered all Algebra concepts and then when they truly succeed in Algebra 1, they may have the opportunity to enroll in the more rigorous Honors Math classes the high school offers.  It is my personal opinion that it may be better to take one year of regular Algebra as a freshman (since the high school does not offer an Honors Algebra 1 class) and then place into honors for the last 3 years of high school, than to not take honors math classes at all.  Sometimes the turtle, not the hare, wins the race.

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