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During the last few years, the topic of mathematics acceleration has dominated the public District 65 mathematics education conversation. In our schools, acceleration means that a small percentage of students skip a grade-level math course. As District 65 math teachers and teachers on the Math Acceleration Committee, we have seen an increase in the number of requests to “grade skip” and would like to clarify some misinformation and misunderstandings. We support developmentally appropriate math acceleration. However, we are concerned for those students that are accelerated before they are ready. We also hope that the public conversation about mathematics education can turn to all 7000+ District 65 students.
As math teachers, we want our students to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of mathematics; we want them to love it as much as we do. We work to develop students who have flexibility of thinking and can solve problems in multiple ways. We work to develop students who can evaluate their own solutions and determine for themselves whether or not they are reasonable. We work to develop students who compare solutions for efficiency and communicate their mathematical thinking in increasingly sophisticated ways. We work to develop students who apply strategies and knowledge in new situations.
To reflect the recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, there have been tremendous changes in our math curriculum. In the past, mathematics included a lot of skill-based learning and these skills were repeated from year to year. Due to the new standards, within a school year, students are now exploring fewer concepts but with more depth. Students are expected to have a strong foundation on which to layer new concepts. When grade levels are skipped, there are often conceptual gaps and this can make it more difficult for students to learn new material.
The changes to the curriculum include not only what is being taught, but how and when it is taught. There is now an emphasis on what are called the practice standards. These include persevering, approaching problems in different ways, constructing viable arguments, and evaluating the evidence of others. Algebraic concepts, including variables and equations, are being introduced at lower grade levels. The entire curriculum has been compacted. Most students who remain on grade level throughout their time in District 65 complete an algebra course and enter high school as freshmen enrolled in geometry. This makes them eligible to take AP Calculus or AP Statistics as seniors.
We believe that the grade-skipping model is a correct path for some children. However, as math educators, we have seen tremendous pressure placed upon children by others and themselves to “grade skip” in mathematics. When students are “over-accelerated,” there can be social and emotional ramifications. We see non-productive struggle, increased levels of anxiety, dependence on tutors, and kids who lose their passion for math.
We encourage parents, School Board members and the District 65 community to consider each child as an individual with individual math readiness. We encourage parents, School Board members, and the District 65 community to take the time to understand the changes in mathematics that have occurred and that continue to occur. The days of the teacher directly instructing from the front of the classroom are over; process and curriculum have likely changed since an older child went through our schools. So when parents advocate for their child to “grade skip,” we are asking that they seriously consider the new standards and the content that would be missed. We encourage parents to talk to teachers about student performance and readiness for acceleration in math.
We understand that the District is planning to move to a course-compacting model beginning in the 2016-17 school year which should alleviate some, but not all, of these concerns.
Submitted by School District 65 math teachers, Claire Hiller, Jen Webber Likhite, Amy Nusser, Jennifer Olson, Kelly Rooney, Tiffany Chapman, Lisa Reitman, Shannon Zullo, and Elizabeth Griffin, all of whom served on the District’s math acceleration committee.