Math intervention course set as standard for 7th graders
January 10, 2007
Math 7 sounds like the logical course for seventh graders. Currently, 59 percent of Park City seventh-grade students are enrolled in it. But the state of Utah considers Math 7 an intervention course for students not ready for the recommended pre-algebra.
So why is Math 7 the course most prescribed for seventh grade students? According to Lars Nordfelt, the Park City district math specialist, "As a district, we are very concerned about this situation. We currently have 59 percent of our seventh graders enrolled in Math 7, which the state describes as an intervention course." He goes on to give three main causes for this.
"In the past, we have thought of Math 7 as a mainstream course to prepare students for pre-algebra.. Our typical sequence has been Math 6 in sixth grade, Math 7 in seventh grade, then pre-algebra in eighth grade. We have a portion of our students who take Math 7 or pre-algebra in sixth grade and by eight grade these students are enrolled in algebra or beyond," he said, via e-mail.
He went on to say, "our elementary math curriculum places an emphasis on mathematical thinking and problem solving, with less emphasis on rote memorization of basic facts. Our process for placing students in appropriate courses places an emphasis on memorization of basic math facts, with less emphasis on mathematical thinking and problem solving."
Jerry Evans, a secondary mathematics specialist at the Utah State Office of Education, said that the state suggests pre-algebra for seventh grade students, but that is only a guideline, and that it is up to school districts to decide what courses best suit the needs of their students.
Yale University Associate Director of Admissions, Rob Jackson, said, "Seventh- grade courses are not an issue for us. Certainly we expect students to have had geometry, algebra, algebra 2 and above." He said that it is understood that intermediate schools and high schools throughout the country offer different curriculums. He did say what Yale is most concerned about is a student’s grade point average and the rigor of the coursework taken by a student.
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Nordfelt sees the need to make pre-algebra the recommended course for seventh- grade students.
"There needs to be a change in thinking of our teachers, counselors and administrators, so we understand that Math 7 in the seventh grade is an intervention course. Our typical sequence should be Math 6 in sixth grade, followed by pre-algebra in seventh grade. Seventh graders should only enroll in Math 7 if they have not mastered the concepts of Math 6."
In addition, he said, "Elementary teachers need to supplement our curriculum with more practice of basic facts. Parents can help with this by assisting their children with practice at home. We have an excellent elementary math curriculum, but it is lacking in helping students master basic math facts. Our students are best served by an emphasis on mathematical thinking and memorization of basic facts."
He also suggested a change in the placement process so students are assessed on what they really need to know to be successful in the next course.
A change in policy may help future students, but will not help current seventh- grade students who are in Math 7 but might best be served if they had been placed in pre-algebra.
Nordfelt said, "I wish there was something more we could do for these students now, but if we tried to move them ahead to pre-algebra at this point, they would miss some skills necessary for skills in algebra." He added, "being in Math 7 in seventh grade is not such a bad place. If they continue in the standard sequence, they can enroll in college algebra and trigonometry for college credit in the 12th grade, which meets or exceeds university expectations. If they take geometry at the same time as honors intermediate algebra, they could enroll in AP calculus in 12th grade, a course that less than 10 percent of high school seniors take nationwide. But this may not be the best course of action for the majority of students.
He said he is concerned, though, that some students may be pushed ahead too fast and may then get discouraged and not reach their potential.
"We are not teaching Math 7 as an ‘intervention course,’" he said. "In all of our courses we assess where the students are, then we move them forward. Seventh graders in Math 7 are strengthening their math foundation, which they build upon in future courses."