A proposal to offer a new compacted middle-school math course met approval and concern at the Feb. 8 meeting of the District 65 Finance Committee.
The positive aspect was that the District would offer a rigorous course to some students who feel they are not now being sufficiently challenged. The concern was twofold: that math classes would be racially divided and that resources would go to bolstering instruction for successful students at the middle-school rather than supporting struggling students at the elementary-school level. Since the overall math proposal says it will address students who are struggling as well as those who need more challenges, one Board member promised scrutiny on both levels.
Stacy Beardsley, interim director of curriculum and instruction, said the math team has been working in three areas: rolling out the Everyday Math 4 curriculum, creating a math framework for grades K-5 and 6-8, and crafting this math compaction/acceleration project, “so we know we are providing the best possible opportunities for our students in this area.”
“Compaction” refers to combining two years of a subject into one so students can advance a grade in their math coursework. According to the the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), “the continuity of the mathematics learning progression is not disrupted” and recommends that districts create “a well-crafted sequence of compacted courses … as opposed to skipping content.”
Matsuo Marti, director of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for the District, said the District is crafting its math-compaction policy to conform to CCSS “to ensure our students experience a high-quality, coherent mathematical learning progression.”
The purpose of the compacted course is to “provide access to high-quality, rigorous and coherent math courses for all students and ensure that clear and concise processes are established to provide opportunities for all students to enroll in advanced mathematics and prepare historically under-represented students for success in advanced mathematics.”
The program would cost between $75,000 and $91,000, Mr. Marti said, and would require 0.3 full-time-equivalent teachers.
District 65 has historically offered course-skipping as its math-acceleration program, Mr. Marti said. For example, a rising sixth-grader would take seventh-grade rather than sixth-grade math. “There are some concerns when you skip a year of math content,” Mr. Marti said. “It creates gaps and a lack of coherence in mathematical learning.” He said the compacted Math 6/7 course would “provide a pathway to middle-school acceleration without skipping a full math course.”
Two Pathways to Advanced Math
At present, Mr. Marti said in a memo, there are two “established District 65 math pathways that serve 98% of our students: an Algebra Pathway and a Geometry Pathway. Successfully completing the Algebra Pathway enables students to [be on track to]complete one AP math course before high school graduation. Successfully completing the Geometry Pathway enables students to [be on track to]complete two AP math courses before high school graduation. The math team believes that for the majority of District 65 students, the Algebra Pathway provides a rigorous, challenging, and appropriate mathematical experience.” He also said District data show that “86% of District 65 8th graders pass Algebra. In addition, initial SY16-17 math placement at ETHS indicates that 83% of District 65 8th graders will be placed into a Geometry or higher math class.”
Board members have said that compacted math classes are essential to have students be able to take advanced mathematics courses at the high school.
Changes in Selection Process
The math team is recommending a change in the way students are selected for math acceleration for either the Math 6/7 or the Algebra 1 course. At present, students are selected for accelerated courses based on scores on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, a qualifying exam and a teacher survey. The new selection system would eliminate the teacher-survey portion and instead create a “grey referral band,” that would be slightly below the cut-off score. Students whose scores fall in the grey area could be recommended for the acceleration by either their parents or their teacher, he said.
Committee member Suni Kartha suggested spending the money on math support in the lower grades. She also said, “We’re about to spend $75,000-$91,000 on creating a tracked course. … I don’t know how that helps [address] the achievement gap. … Over the last couple of months we have been looking at the achievement report and people have talked to us about how their kids are not progressing. … We’re talking about a fairly high spend on students who are already successful. Our action doesn’t match our rhetoric. … I think we spend too much time and energy trying to create pathways for students who are already successful.”
Dr. Beardsley said the math team took on this project, which was begun last year, “because we’re close to the finish line.”
A handful of parents attended the meeting. “I love this. It’s pushing all my buttons,” one parent said.
Another parent took exception to Ms. Kartha’s comments, saying she spent a lot of time volunteering in her children’s school and is aware of the gaps in achievement that appear in the early grades. She also said her children have been “very unhappy” with the lack of challenging courses, and “I have to speak for my kids.” Referring to the District’s mantra, she said, “‘Every child, every day, whatever it takes’ – or do we mean ‘every child, unless you a successful white kid’? There has to be a balance.”
Paula Zelinski, president of the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers’ union), said at Haven Middle School the math classes are already racially divided, this class “is going to start the sorting earlier.” She also said the District’s two current algebra classes, Algebra 1 and Algebra 8, are “completely racially divided.”
Dr. Beardsley said the math team “did talk about the racial aspect” of the class and acknowledged “the Math 6/7 class may be somewhat racially segregated.” She also the math team would work “to strengthen the work done in grades K-5.”
The only course in which District 65 has tracked students for many years is algebra.
Ms. Zelinski also asked about the impact of the new course on middle-school class schedules. Mr. Marti said the math team had “looked at the different schedules” and understood that decisions would have to be made about scheduling.
Finance Committee member Claudia Garrison, a retired teacher, said “It’s not going to be an easy solution.”
Board member Omar Brown, who attended the Finance Committee meeting, said, “I like compacting. I like preparing historically under-represented students. … You put that out there, and now you have to do it.”