Are 7th graders pushed too hard in math?
January 20, 2007
How far can students be pushed in math before the difficulty of the class becomes counter productive? That may all depend on whom one asks. The Park City School District and the State of Utah are redefining what is best for students, looking at academic performance, but also considering that kids are entering toumoutous times of their lives .
One point of discussion in Park City school board meetings, as well as state meetings is, should a seventh-grade student be placed in pre-algebra as the normal course of study, versus Math 7.
Ecker Hill International Middle School principal Greg Proffit spoke of the importance of a student developing as a whole person. "Math gets put out there as the only horse pulling the cart," he said. "But we’re working with your whole kid."
Administrators feel the weight of the states guidelines and may feel remiss if they don’t take the majority of students to the levels the state suggests. Is the state of Utah demanding too much of its students?
Former Utah State Office of Education secondary mathematics specialist Jerry Evans, said that although pre-algebra was the suggested math course for seventh-grade students by the state of Utah, that was only a guideline, and that it was up to the school districts to decide what courses best suit the needs of the students. Evans pointed out that Math 7 was not a "remedial course," but instead, an "intervention course."
Secondary Mathmatics Specialist Diana Suddreth, who took over for Evans on Jan. 1, 2007, said that there is no preferred course for seventh-grade students, according to the state of Utah. Whether the student takes Math 7 or pre-algebra, depends on the child. She said school districts come up with a placement process to determine what math class would best suit the individual needs of the student. Suddreth said that currently 33 percent of Utah students take Math 7, 55 percent of seventh-grade students take pre-algebra, and10 percent take elementary algebra.
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Lars Nordfelt, the Park City School District math specialist, said "currently 59 percent of our seventh-graders are enrolled in Math 7, which the state describes as an intervention course." He saw three main causes for the high number of students enrolled in Math 7. "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 eighth-grade these students are enrolled in algebra or above," 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 mathematical thinking and problem solving."
Suddreth said she did not like the label of Math 7 as an "intervention course," but, instead, considered it an "alternative course."
Despite the possible volatility of "intervention course," that is how it reads in the course description on the Utah State Office of Education Website, which states, "Math 7 is provided as an intervention for students requiring additional experience in developing conceptual understanding and building mathematical skills."
But, might Math 7 give the majority of students a stronger foundation for future classes, while allowing for kids at an age of social and physical changes to work on other aspects of their life?
Proffit said that the bulk of next year’s seventh-grade students, between nine and 10 sections, will be enrolled in pre-algebra, while two or three sections will be enrolled in Math 7. He said "over the last couple of years we’ve been making the effort to slowly move more and more kids into that pre-algebra class. That having been said, we still want to make sure they’re prepared to do well in the algebra course. They’ll do better if we don’t push them too far, too fast." He said some students are taking up to nine or 10 classes, "so there’s more to how they are doing socially, academically, cognitively developmentally than just their math placement. So we want to make sure that overall they are having a successful time of it," Proffit said.
Why are more seventh-grade kids being moved into pre-algebra? Proffit said there is a little shift in philosophy about what’s most important. Proffit admitted that there are teachers who question the idea that the majority of seventh-graders should be in pre-algebra. However, Proffit said that one of the reasons Park City is rated among the top high schools in the nation, is the proportion of students enrolled in advanced placement classes.
"It’s not the proportion of students who get a B or above, it’s the number of students enrolled in that rigorous course work, with research showing that students who enroll in a rigors education in high school will be prepared for college. We do want them to succeed academically, but there is a whole kid there.
"I’m trying to find indicators that our approach over the last seven years has been wrong, and I can’t find any. We have stopped hearing from the high school classes that kids can’t cut it, that they have to drop, that they are making it to too high levels without the underlying skills, I haven’t been hearing that."
Proffit said that even students who take pre-algebra in the eighth-grade are able to take advanced placement classes in their junior and senior year of high school. Maybe in their middle school years they weren’t ready, but it clicks in in later years and they . Our requirement is only three years of math, they’re in high school for four years. There’s plenty of math for our kids to take. We just don’t feel like we should be shoving it down their throats at the middle level."
We don’t want to jump on the pendulum and swing these kids back out to where we were in this district ten years ago any you’ve got eighth-graders dropping like flies cause they cant keep up with an algebra course over the course of a single year. You develop bad attitude about it and you are not ready for next class."
He referred to how well students are doing on utah core tests, where he said 86 percent pass the test.
Proffit uses predictor tests arithmetic tests and reference tests. It’s not individual teachers hunch, of how they are, but we are using that battery of tests to say that your kid is going to find success in Math 7, or pre-algebra. There are fewer students who have seemed well suited for pre-algebra. Thought is that if students pass I wouldn’t mind if the state rewrote that core and instead of inserting intervention inserted transition.