Thursday, May 12, 2011
The latest report on math in DeKalb County Schools
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) http://www.corestandards.org/ 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.
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.