Thursday, May 12, 2011

The latest report on math in DeKalb County Schools

Many of you know that I’ve been through a number of changes with regard to the Math curriculum in Georgia. For a bit of history: (1) my soon-to-be-college-sophomore was part of the program by Dr. Brown insisting upon mandatory algebra for all 8th graders. This was required without any regard to basic “readiness” components such as whether a child knew his or her multiplication or division ‘facts’ cold. The explanation for the change was that all children who had calculus in high school succeeded in college. My personal experience with calculus in high school, which I came close to failing and have never used as an attorney, is that Dr. Brown had his Venn diagram backwards: all those who succeed with calculus in high school will do well in college, but there are others who will do well in college who do not take calculus in high school. The end result: a 70% fail rate in algebra 1 in 8th grade. My son was the 2nd or 3rd year of mandatory algebra 1 (he did fine, he took AB calculus as a senior and is currently enrolled in an engineering curriculum in NY). (2) My middle son was the first year of the shift to Integrated GPS math and he was part of the first group of students to be enrolled in “Accelerated Math 1" as an 8th grader, entering the curriculum mid-year in 7th grade. I was very involved in the roll-out of this curriculum and in its implementation. I have been outspoken against it, particularly with regard to the lack of teacher training and the lack of a “model” system effectively using this curriculum elsewhere. When directly asked “who is using this math” and “with what result,” the response was hemming and hawing and reference to Europe and a need to compete abroad. No one domestically was utilizing the curriculum in toto such that my child and his friends were being used as guinea pigs. The experiment has failed (some of his friends, now sophomores, are looking at Calculus next year and are doing very well– they are very bright and able to absorb the math, and others of his friends are really struggling in Math 2 and are looking at Math 3 next year). The State is now moving away from this curriculum. (3) My youngest son has been enrolled in Accelerated Math 1 as an 8th grader this year. In it’s 3rd year, they are still not working from a text book. Fortunately for my household, my sons are good at math and they have each other for help.

The County has released its pending course offerings for the rising 9th graders and for the Accelerated rising 8th graders. I have been barraging various folks at the County, including Dr. Beasley, Ms. Tyson and others along with Dr. Reichrath at the State, with my thoughts and opinions gleaned from these past 7 years of changes in the math curriculum. A friend and I had the opportunity to attend a meeting this past week with some math curriculum folks from the County, including Ms. Stacy Stepney, the Director for High School Teaching and Learning and with Ms. Wanda Audrict, the K-12 Math Coordinator. I was pleased with how supportive of the children they were and how knowledgeable they were about the past and upcoming changes to the math curriculum and the interface they require from the State. They also seemed to support “leveling” math within the high school. It is not obvious from the materials that have been presented to the parents that the upcoming math options will be offered in gifted and accelerated modules (for comparison my eldest had Gifted Geometry, Gifted Algebra 2, Gifted Analysis and then AP AB Calculus). They indicated that they were encouraging the schools to make such courses available if the student bodies would support it. Ms. Stepney is willing to speak with folks with questions – so contact her.

It seems that the current upcoming changes to the math curriculum will only impact the current 7th graders (rising 8th) and older (this is why none of the other grade levels have been addressed at the meetings). This is because the horizon includes Governor Deal’s adoption of the Common Core Standards (National Standards) It seems that no one is quite sure what this will mean. How does this impact the CRCT? What about implementing it now rather than going to some in-between step for math? How will it be rolled out? Why are we not using a test like the NAEP (the “National Assessment of Educational Progress” test – my middle son took this test at Henderson two years ago but never received the scores. Also not all of Henderson nor all 8th graders took the NAEP that year, only a selected group of 8th grade impact kids at Henderson took the NAEP that year... it is very odd actually, but I digress). Can we take the Iowa instead of the CRCT? Is there a budget for teacher training? New books? There are no answers. Only questions and more changes on the horizon.

In evaluating what to do about the “new” math options if you have a child impacted (e.g. 7-10th grade). You need to look at a very confusing chart. The County’s website has the math powerpoint uploaded. The women explained that the “programs” (DCSS has so many) have different tracks so a student exiting Chamblee Middle in Accelerated Math 1 isn’t necessarily in the “same boat” as a student exiting Henderson Middle in Accelerated Math 1 (for some reason, Chamblee High still has a math track that can proceed even faster than the Accelerated track at Lakeside that will get a student to Calculus in 11th grade). Also, DCSS is experimenting with “on line” learning whereby joint enrollment may be available for the upper level, very advanced (beyond Calculus) students with the local colleges for classes not offered on-site. This is very exciting and I commend the county for this!

So here are my “take aways” from the meeting. If you have an Accelerated Math 1 child who should stay “on track” and is doing “well” “as is” then don’t return any forms (or get them back - quickly!) and proceed. Your child should automatically be enrolled (by teacher recommendation) in Accelerated GPS Geometry/Advanced Algebra (this is half a year to finish up what is left in Geometry and half a year of the old Algebra 2 – give or take). If you want to “slow it down” because you child hates math, isn’t doing too well, or just isn’t interested in 11th grade Calculus, you sign up for GPS Geometry – not GPS Algebra – if your child has already taken Accelerated Math 1 and has sat for the EOCT (given on Thursday, May 5th) and earned a Carnegie unit and passed the class, your child has completed Algebra 1. To shift from Accelerated Math 1 to GPS Geometry, the form should be completed and returned.

If you have a GPS Math 8 child who is doing well and wants to go to a college like UGA or Ga Tech and is good at math and is not currently struggling (e.g. has the teachers’ “go ahead”), then consider enrolling your child in Accelerated GPS Algebra/Geometry. This will be a half year finishing what is left of Algebra 1 and starting the first half of Geometry (give or take). Sophomore year, you will pick up in the previous paragraph.... There is a way to accelerate even further and get to Calculus as a Junior by “doubling up” – probably sophomore year – if your child is very strong at math and very interested in math. If this is the case, please chat with your counselors and Ms. Stepney about this alternative and plan your courses. If you want to “take it slowly” because your child hates math or is really bad at it, enroll in GPS Algebra or Math 1 depending on whether you want the “discrete” approach (if you are headed to Lakeside, my understanding is that you may not have the option and will need to be in the “discrete” column). I’m not sure which option will require the form to be returned.

My personal “spin” on things is that the high schools are not going to be able to offer every class on the chart and to be able to offer them at every “level” (e.g. gifted and accelerated-colloquially “high achiever”). There are “STARS” (under the new funding formulas) to figure out and actual classrooms to fill. If there are only 8 kids signed up for Math 1 and 20 kids signed up for GPS Algebra, the Math 1s will land in GPS Algebra. The gifteds may be merged with the accelerateds in order for the schools to fill in their “matrixes” of classes so that they can maximize the number of math teachers they have with the courses they are offering. To that end, it may make sense for parents to coordinate with one another so that the kids are presented to the high schools as larger “groups” rather than “singles” for the offerings, which from the chart could be all over the place and a scheduling nightmare for the Assistant Principal doing the scheduling (obviously I’ve never done scheduling myself so maybe it will be easy and I just don’t know it).

I hope this is helpful to you. If you have questions, I really do encourage you to contact Ms. Stepney – she was really delightful and very helpful. The counselors from the different high schools seem to have different information. Please also check with your student’s current math teacher if you have any lingering questions about ability. Understand that the math is changing, training and text book budgets are tight and grades are going onto final transcripts for high school so when you are choosing courses you need to do what’s best for your child. Also, think ahead. Colleges are interested in your child challenging him or herself at the highest end of his or her ability and also doing well in the class (it is sometimes a tight line to walk). Also, the classes your child takes freshman year set the stage for the classes he or she will take the following year and so forth. Certain colleges may be “out of reach” if your child doesn’t reach a “certain level” of classes by junior and senior year so you need to choose wisely and maybe even research colleges now. For example, it may be that UGA and Ga Tech want to see that your child has taken AP classes and Calculus by the time they graduate. In order to take those classes, there are other classes that need to be taken first, so the child needs to set forth on a certain path to get there. It may be that there are other things that come into play. Just enter into your child’s freshman schedule with open eyes regarding ability and where it will lead the following few years with college and after (work, etc) looming ahead so that you are not caught off guard at a time when you may be at a critical juncture and may not be able to do something about it. Also, for kids who are interested in “STEM” careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), there are some really interesting summer programs and scholarships – for college and for the summer – some are there for girls and others for minorities. Many are “need” based. Do some research on line and see what is out there and what the “prerequisites” are with enough “lead” time to plan ahead. Your teen may still need some guidance from you even if they appear to be completely removed from you.

Good luck.


Shayna Steinfeld has served as our resource for math information for quite some time. We very much appreciate her willingness to continue to meet with those 'in the know' and to advocate for excellent math in DeKalb.

Below are some charts showing the Georgia math pathways and why Algebra 1 won't fit.


Molly said...

This information is different than what was presented to parents at Chamblee Middle School. We were told that if your child had completed Accelerated Math 1 and wanted to move to the traditional pathway, they would have to take Algebra 1 (not Geometry) because the Math 1 course did not include all the Algebra units. We were told that essentially you could not move into the traditional pathway if you had already started in the integrated pathway without losing a year because your student would NOT get credit for algebra 1.

Anon said...

Re the NAEP

It is a test that is given annually to random students at random schools.

Most systems don't even receive their scores, unless they are part of the City Schools programs. Schools certainly don't and students certainly don't.

The purpose of the NAEP is to make broad statements about the status of education in this country.

Cerebration said...

Shayna asked that I mention that Chamblee has been corrected and the accelerated math 1 students have indeed completed algebra 1 and would move into GPS geometry. Any lingering questions should go to Ms. Stepney.

Molly said...

That information (placement of students who completed Math 1 into Geometry) has not been communicated to the Chamblee Middle parents. Ms. Stepney was at the meeting at Chamblee Middle, and unfortunately most parents left with more questions than answers. There was a great deal of anger that parents were being told they had to sign a waiver by April 25, yet could get no consistent answers as to which course their child would take next it they moved from one pathway to the other. It also seemed premature to have parents decide before EOCT and CRCT results were available.

Cerebration said...

Please email Ms Stepney and ask for clarification and bring it back here. We are about to post a chart showing why Alg 1 doesn't work. Check with the counselors at Chamblee HS, ironically, they may have different info from Chamblee MS.

This reminds me of the year Johnny Brown implemented the algebra 1 for 8th graders. We had to fill out high school registration forms 4 times!

Cerebration said...

During last week's Blogger melt down, this post was completely lost -- along with all of the attached comments.... Sorry.

Please restart the conversation. We had been discussing the confusion surrounding what has been communicated about the new math to 8th grade parents. High schools appear to have different info from middle schools. Please contact Ms. Stacy Stepney for exact info.

sharron said...

I have a child who has just completed 8th grade and was in 9th grade Accelerated Math I with other 9th graders. I have a second child who is in the 9th grade and just completed regular 9th grade Math I with other 9th graders. In addition, I tutored several 8th graders who were in 8th grade Accelerated Math I with other 8th graders. If this sounds confusing, just keep in mind that the first child I mentioned was in a high school that started at 8th grade and so, had access to the 9th grade accelerated version of Math I.

I found out that these two Accelerated Math I classes are different. The 8th grade version of accelerated Math I for eighth graders includes the remainder of general 8th grade linear math + a full year of 9th grade Math I; while the 9th grade accelerated Math I starts off with a complete year of Math I and loads 10th grade Algebra to the back-end of the course. This includes imaginary numbers, piece-wise functions, trigonometry, and a small bit of geometry.

I was told at Stone Mountain High School, that regular Math I for 9th grade or accelerate Math I for 8th graders (not 9th Grade Accelerated Math I), is not enough Algebra to transfer over to Discrete Geometry. The transfer can only be made to 9th grade Discrete Algebra, which is a review of the Algebra in Math I including linear and quadratics. So, just know that when you mention Accelerated Math I you must consider if it was taught to a class of all eighth graders or all ninth graders and whether it included 10th Grade Math II at the back-end.

Regular Ninth graders in Math I or Accelerated 8th Graders in a class of all 8th grade Accelerated Math I will lose credit when transferring to discrete Algebra. But, if your child struggled in the accelerated class and is not receiving remediation or is tapping out in Math, the move to discrete Algebra could be a wise choice. Although, for ninth graders completing Math I, losing the credit may not be worth it and it may be necessary to continue with the struggle and get help through remediation, because Math II is just as challenging with very similar failure rates on EOCT.

The question is, which Math II class do the accelerated 8th grade Math I students go to in High School? I believe Walton High School in Cobb County is placing them in a ninth grade accelerated Math II classes with other ninth graders - meaning it will pick up at the beginning of 10th grade math and conclude with one full year of this item. Then they will proceed to Discrete Algebra II and leave the integrated track right at Math III.

Those who are leaving 9th grade Accelerated Math I and were 8th grade but in a class with 9th graders, will proceed to 10th Grade Accelerated Math II, which picks up at 10th grade mid-year Math II and concludes with 11th grade Math III. If you happened to be in this last boat as an 8th grader, it may be that you can switch to Geometry because you have truly had a year of Algebra I (+ Geometry).

I talked to a Math III coordinator at the county and she mentioned something that disturbed me. She said that discrete math Algebra I will not be the same as the old GPS Algebra I, but will be the exact same Algebra I that is found in Math I and the first part of Math II (9th grade and part of 10th grade). This means that it will not be easier than integrated Math. It will include quadratics, radicals, imaginaty numbers and possibly piece-wise functions, it just will not include the Geometry. This also means that there will be no books! There will be copies excerpted from the Math I and Math II books. If this is true, I think kids will suffer. My tutees who did not have books were lost without an overall picture to follow. Taking away books removes the roadmap and leaves the kids without a sense of control over the next steps. They can't study ahead or look at more detailed examples unless the instructor copies the entire book.

Statistics may be included in all math courses.

Hopes this helps.

No Duh said...

And check this out...

I went to see my rising ninth grade daughter's schedule at her future high school a couple days ago (there was a specific thing I wanted to make sure happened to her schedule that didn't involve math). Anyway, I asked for confirmation that we had indeed opted out of integrated Math and that she was scheduled for Accelerated GPS Algebra/Geometry (the whole form thing was so confusing, who knew what was being scheduled??) -- which is SUPPOSED to be discreet, i.e. linear teaching of Algebra and then picking up Geometry after the delivery of the Algebra.

Well...imagine my surprise when the counselor said, "She's in Accelerated GPS Algebra/Geometry, which is the same as Accelerated Math I." Huh?? He went on to explain...

There will be students seated next to my daughter whose schedules will have Accelerated Math I on them. Why? Because -- as we all expected, btw -- there are not anywhere near enough teachers to teach all these options. This whole "opt out" process is/was a complete JOKE!!

So I guess it will be up to us -- the parents -- to speak directly to the teacher and lay out in very clear terms that we EXPECT the math in our children's classrooms to be delivered in a DISCREET fashion.

Makes you want to scream or cry doesn't it?

atl said...

@ No Duh
"There will be students seated next to my daughter whose schedules will have Accelerated Math I on them. Why? Because -- as we all expected, btw -- there are not anywhere near enough teachers to teach all these options. This whole "opt out" process is/was a complete JOKE!!
So I guess it will be up to us -- the parents -- to speak directly to the teacher and lay out in very clear terms that we EXPECT the math in our children's classrooms to be delivered in a DISCREET fashion"'

You can speak to the teachers all you want, but there are only so many hours in the day, and to be realistic for your child, you need to divide those hours by student numbers that include the extra students the DCSS administration has given these teachers.

Do you really expect teachers to be able to adequately individualize when the DCSS administration has chosen to invest in personnel and programs who do not directly instruct students rather than math teachers who instruct your child?

As you said, "there are not anywhere near enough teachers to teach all these options." This is the real deal.