Last week the Washington Post ran a story on the a topic I’ve blogged on before: the uneasiness many parents are feeling about willy-nilly math acceleration in MCPS. You can read the story, “Accelerated Math Adds Up to a Division over Merits,” (yuk, yuk) here.
While parents support rigor and the opportunity for acceleration, many are uneasy that it’s being approached backwards, being carried out by fiat. The word has come down from on high that students who complete algebra before high school are more “successful.” Thus it should be so–regardless of whether there are/exist numbers/percentages of students to meet these targets (20% of 6th graders, 40% of 7th graders, 80% of 8th graders taking algebra in 8th grade). To make it so, the math curriculum is being back-mapped into elementary school, with acceleration starting abruptly in 2nd grade. As the article notes, concern seems to be greatest in the less affluent “red zone” schools.
The result–at least what I’m hearing anecdotally–is kids who are rushed through a compacted curriculum, who are stressed out, and who have decided that they aren’t good at math and in fact hate it. Down the line, there are reports of a watered down algebra and kids with weaknesses who fall apart when they hit Algebra 2 in high school and lack a truly solid footing in math.
Last night I had dinner with a good friend. She told me she had informed the “math content specialist” that her 4th grader (who has been doing combined 5th and 6th grade math this year) was going to repeat the same level math class next year. (Her child was in agreement and parents have ultimate say on placement.) The content specialist said it should be no problem.
A few days later, however, the mom got word that the principal wanted to see her. She went into a meeting with the principal, vice principal and math content specialist. To her surprise, the principal was under the impression that it was the mom who had requested the meeting. She told the principal that no, they were the ones who had requested to meet with her. The principal then asked why she wanted her child to repeat math next year, as the grades on the cumulative unit tests (which he had in front of her/him) were quite good. (It should be noted that the school thinks “mastery” is earning a “C.”)
To the prinical’s astonishment the mom said that in her opinion the scores were essentially meaningless. The tests were given over two days, and her child had confided that she had been told by the teacher which questions were wrong–and which he/she needed to answer correctly the next day in order to get a higher grade. The principal sputtered that the mom had just robbed her/him of any argument against the mom’s decision. The principal was clearly not pleased and as the mom was leaving told the others present to stay behind.
The only question is, was the principal angry that the testing was being manipulated? Angry that she/he didn’t know that the data was being manipulated? Angry that there would now be one less child on the accelerated math track? Angry that a parent had discovered this? Some of this? All of this?