Math Pathways, Middle School, and Equitable Access

The District has claimed that equitable access to quality programs and services for all students is important to them. They say that, but where are the efforts to provide equitable access beyond the flowery talk?

In one step towards equitable access the District math department has standardized math placement in middle school. All of our comprehensive middle schools use the same assessment and make the same placement based on the results. This is a positive step towards equitable access. A student is assigned to the same 6th grade math class regardless of their attendance area school. Too bad that commitment ends in the 6th grade.

Just to be clear, 6th grade math placement is a critical decision. It determines the student's entry point on the Math Pathway. That pathway goes: Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, then a choice of advanced classes. Each step in the math pathway must be taken in turn, so the upper limit of the student's K-12 math career is determined by the 6th grade math placement. Placed in 6th grade math, the student can go no further than Pre-Calculus. Placed in 7th grade math in the 6th grade (standard expectation for Spectrum students and common among high performing non-Spectrum students) and the student can reach AP Calculus as a high school senior. Some students qualify for 8th grade math (standard for APP students) and even Algebra in the 6th grade.

All of our comprehensive middle schools are supposed to offer Algebra. Students who take this class in middle school are eligible for high school credit and, towards the end of the school year, take the EOC exam required for high school graduation.

The schools that are designated APP sites offer these advanced math classes, but not all of our comprehensive middle schools offer Geometry or Algebra 2. So students at other schools who take Algebra in the 6th or 7th grade don't have a math class they can take in the 7th or 8th grade at their school. What to do?

The solutions are clear.

  1. The student can change schools to one that offers the next class in the Math Pathway. Of course there is no assurance that the student will be able to gain access to the school and the District will not provide transportation.
  2. The student can go to another school just for this class. Of course there is no assurance that the student will be able to gain access to the school and the District will not provide transportation.
  3. The student can enter APP and be assured access to a school that offers the classes in their Math Pathway and transportation to and from school each day. Of course not all students who are taking advanced math classes qualify for APP. Still, this may be a contributing reason to the high APP enrollment in middle school. Students may be entering the program just to have access to advanced math classes.
  4. The student can homeschool for the class. In this case the student must either leave school early (transportation not provided) or come to school late (transportation not provided) because the school will not allow the student to remain on campus without being in a class. In this case the student is not eligible for high school credit for the class but must pass the Geometry EOC at the end of the first year of high school to graduate.
  5. The student can take an approved online course supervised by a certificated teacher (any certificated secondary teacher will do, he or she doesn't have to be qualified in math). This student's family bears the cost of this class (about $250) and must provide all of the necessary equipment. The student would be eligible for high school credit this way and would take the Geometry EOC at the end of the year. This is not an at-school activity, so, again, the student must either leave school early (transportation not provided) or come to school late (transportation not provided) because the school will not allow the student to remain on campus without being in a class.
  6. The student can go without a math class for a year or two. Yeah, right.
In short, aside from gaining entry to APP, all of the other choices place a burden on the student's family and make a lie of the promise of equitable access to programs and services. What should happen, of course, is that the school should provide the space and equipment for the student to take the class online at the school in the course of the school day and the District should pay for the course. How is that not obvious?

It appears that the District is all for equitable access - until it costs them $250. That amount is beyond their commitment.


Anonymous said…
Even in APP math placement is a not assured and can be a burden.

At Hamilton International Middle School the math placement for APP is based on class enrollment targets not on student ability.

So we have been forced to homeschool math at great expense in time and money.

Patrick said…
About all the situations in which transportation is not available, isn't pretty much all transportation in high school via Metro anyway? Can't the students take whatever Metro bus is convenient for them?
Patrick said…
From middle school on up, if the student is homeschooling for math, they should be able to take another elective or have a "teacher assistance" or "library assistance" period instead of being sent home. Is that not the case in most middle schools?
Anonymous said…
Agree about there needing to be a place for homeschoolers to do work and be supervised, if not assisted, while at school. At least in the case where homeschooling is necessitated by the school not offering the needed math course.

But traveling to and from a school that does offer the math within the school day is unrealistic. I don't see how a student could get from one school to another within the school day by any means of transport given timing constraints.

Anonymous said…
BTW, this situation is playing out at McClure right now. The school will no longer offer Geometry or Algebra 2. Not enough students to fill an entire class. Not enough money to take care of that small group of students who've already completed Algebra 1 or Geometry. So they are on their own: on their own time, at their own expense.

Libby said…
Charlie, if I'm understanding correctly, you're saying that the math pathways is in effect "locked in" in 6th grade but this conflicts with what we've been told. Our daughter is in 6th grade math but her teacher recommended that she take Algebra when she gets to 8th grade (instead of math 8) so she is working in a year ahead in math. We understood that is the next point at which she can advance. Do others have experience with this scenario? Is it common?
Anonymous said…
Patrick, are there ANY middle schools that will allow a student to stay on campus for independent study? We've always been told it's district policy that we can't, but would be good to know if some do allow it. I agree 100% that a school, if they can't provide an appropriate level class, should at least offer time and space for independent work.

My student once had a teacher try to get around it by offering him a TA position, during which the teacher said he could typically do independent work instead. The school wouldn't allow it though, as he wasn't yet in 8th grade and apparently it wouldn't be fair to let a younger student take up a TA slot. I guess it was fairer to make a 6th grader take an extra elective and then do all math lectures, reading, exercises and exams on their own time than it would be to deprive an 8th grader of an easy period. You know, because of equity.


Anonymous said…
Each MS math class until Algebra 1 is skip-able. So I would argue that 8th grade placement is the most critical of all. We should be open to letting kids skip 6th, 7th, or 8th grade math as soon as they can, so long as they demonstrate the skill level and desire to do so.

I'd also say that if most kids are still capable of getting through pre-Calc/Math Anal/Trig by graduation, that's quite an accomplishment. So not reaching Calculus in HS is not so troubling, as getting through anything above Algebra 2 means kids are solid in math. Getting kids to that level would be well beyond where we are now.

My guess, Charlie, is that with MIF coming on line in K5, hopefully followed by MS Singapore Adoption, whatever we implement now will not be in place for long, because the demand for higher level classes at lower grades will increase substantially and quickly.

Anonymous said…
"Solid" is not a good word. I'd say kids who get through Pre-Calc are certainly "proficient" in math by that level.

Anonymous said…
Given the small number of students it impacts, I'd guess this is low priority for the district.

Did students take the Algebra class at McClure, only to be told later that there would be no appropriate class, or did they know going into it that there may be no Geometry or Algebra 2 class offered? At Hamilton, parents were discouraged from super accelerating students because they couldn't guarantee an Algebra 2 class. Next year, for the first time since the first APP split, Hamilton will offer an Algebra 2 class.

So, you can fight for years to bring about a change, but in the meantime...

For Geometry, a low cost option for a self-motivated student is through Duke's TIP program. They have an independent study course that comes with a DVD of chapter lectures and quizzes, along with a pacing guide and assignments.

good luck
Anonymous said…
Is it true that option schools do not have to follow the math pathway and if so why? If the district is mandating uniform material adoption for all schools regardless of alternative status - unless they get waivers or are a designated creative approach school? - then why aren't schools following the math pathway?

Is this an intentional decision or an unintentional result of what appears to be an ongoing disconnect between JSCEE and these schools?

Math Mom
Benjamin Leis said…
My vaguest impression based on conversations (since we're not there yet) is that you might be better off taking an online class anyway if you're advanced beyond the mainline path. There's some fairly high quality options for Algebra and forward online which use more rigorous textbooks and the quality of a teacher drafted to teach Alg 2 in middle school etc can be highly variable.

Linh-Co said…
Salmon Bay, Hamilton, and Whitman do not allow students to stay on campus if they are single subject homeschooling in math. I have students from all these schools and most of them do it during 1st or 6th period so then can arrive late or leave early.

My son, an 8th grader at Hamilton, is currently taking Alg 2 with Mr. Pounder. There are only 4 kids in the class so they are in the same class as his Geometry class. He assigns them homework and gives them tests but there is little to no instruction since he has a full Geometry class to teach. I'm thankful for the independent study but will have my son repeating Alg 2 next year at Ingraham. His sister who is in 10th grade is also taking Algebra 2 Honors at Ingraham and is using the same book. Both are in the same course, same book but since she has a teacher she has learned way more. My son has covered about 1/2 as much of the book as his sister.

Beware of course titles. All classes are not equal. A lot of middle schools say they are teaching algebra to all 8th graders using the 8th grade CMP2 books. These courses are algebra "lite". A lot of these students are ill prepared to take algebra 2 in high school.
Linh-Co said…
BTW, both Mr. Pounder and Ingraham use Unified Mathematics Book 3. Thank God, it's not the Discovering Agebra series.
Patrick said…
asdf and HIMSmom, at my daughter's school middle schoolers can sign up for "library assistant" as an elective. They are to be in the library and available if the librarian needs assistance -- they learn to check out books and shelve. But they also usually have a fair amount of time to do homework for other classes and could be doing work from homestudy as long as they didn't need questions answered.
Anonymous said…
@Linh-Co: There's been an unused Discovering Algebra Textbook gathering dust in my dining room since the first day of school. I remember seeing stacks and stacks of unused Discovery Math books at TM our fist year there, as well. I wonder how common that is in SPS, while staff fret over the high cost of MIF? WSDWG
Anonymous said…
@Linh-Co ...

You reference the Unified Mathematics series of textbooks.

Are these the same books the district adopted in the early 1990s and replaced in 1997 with Integrated Mathematics? Has it been over 20 years since the district has purchased a quality book?

Benjamin Leis said…
I also have seen a lot of positive feedback for the also fairly old Algebra: Structure and Method books. I wonder how they compare.

Charlie Mas said…
Here's the point:

At some middle schools students get access to advanced math classes - at least Geometry. At other middle schools the students and their families have to provide the instruction themselves. That's not equitable.
Anonymous said…
As Ben suggested, taking advanced level math in middle school can be iffy - the classes are typically not taught at an honors level (it really depends on the teacher), plus you have the Discovering Algebra and Discovering Geometry texts. Being forced to homeschool may turn out for the best.

In response to Charlie's comment, it used to be that middle school Geometry was part of the APP pathway. At some point in time, they stated that math was based on ability, so you did not need to qualify for APP or Spectrum in order to accelerate along the math pathway. Before you could argue that the advanced pathway was part of APP, but now? It seems principals are making this decision on a school by school basis, rather than having an enforceable district policy.

good luck
Anonymous said…
Which of these K8 schools do not offer students advanced or remedial math placement at middle school? I agree this is an important topic.



Catherine Blaine
Hazel Wolf (JAK8)
Licton Springs (Pinehurst)
Salmon Bay
South Shore

Anonymous said…
- Good luck
"Next year, for the first time since the first APP split, Hamilton will offer an Algebra 2 class."
Are you sure about this? Just because half of the students who could be in Algebra 2 will be gone to JA. And have you heard who will be the teacher?
HIMS parent
Linh-Co said…

I'm having a retirement party for Ted Nutting this Saturday you should stop by. Email me

Yes, those are the books 1991 copyright. These books are tattered. Some of the books at Ingraham have no cover. They have a hard time replacing the books because they are no longer in print.

Some of the Roosevelt teachers are using them as well. These books are being hoarded since there are not enough to go around. I just checked on Amazon and the list price for a Unified Book 2 is $185 new and $50 for a used book.
Anonymous said…
For years, HIMS (APP pathway) did not allow 6th graders to take Algebra. My understanding is that two years ago, some 6th graders were officially permitted to take Algebra in 6th grade. They will now be 8th graders, so they need to offer an actual class, not a back of the room independent study. Do I have confirmation that an actual Algebra 2 class is being offered? No. The cohort will be split to JAMS.

good luck
Anonymous said…
If you have your kid take an online course, I would recommend that you stay clear of BYU's online geometry class. It is awful. It is like 3 different people wrote it and nothing correlates: video lectures, the book and the tests do not align. My daughter tried to take it and even with a tutor from Sylvan, they couldn't figure it out. She switched to Brightmont Academy where she received credit for the class and she got one on one teaching.

Benjamin Leis said…
I don't know if it really is a problem for the K8's to have less options esp. advanced ones given their cohort sizes and since they're already defined as not offering as broad a set of classes as a comprehensive middle school. Most of these issues are better handled where you can aggregate enough students together to make a normal sized classroom.

To Charlie's last point I'm not that interested in equitable access to inferior classes. Not that the district is really interested but we definitely shouldn't start replicating a poorly thought out implementation.
Anonymous said…
@ Ben: I'd beg to differ on your K8 math comment. In fact, your comment came off as pretty cavalier.

Yes, parents choose K8s knowing a downside is fewer middle school "options." Most parents understand that they will not find the same language, art, music and athletic opportunities as in comprehensive middle schools. But I assure you most parents that I've met expect the core 3, science, LA and math to be up to the differentiation standards of comp middle schools, even if not offered in separate classes, which I agree are not a reality in some of the smaller schools.

From what I've seen: Science in K8s more or less marches in step to SPS standards and doesn't seem to systemically suffer in K8 middle school. LA is relatively easily differentiated in the K8s via in-class projects and pacing.

That leaves the other core subject, math, which appears to have almost no differentiation in pacing. Perhaps some of these schools do offer that differentiation (beyond special education). If so, I'd like to know about it.

If in fact they do not offer differentiation, well that's a substantial problem in my book.

Additionally, I looked at the SPS math page and they do not distinguish comprehensive middle school from K8s in their description of math placement.

Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pi said…
What's the timing and next steps for changing out math curriculum for middle and high school? When does that debate heat up? Any details would be appreciated.
Anonymous said…
Hazel Wolf K8 (previously known as JA) is a spectrum school and does offer differentiation in math. Each level doesn't have a full class of kids, but I believe we have the ability to differentiate up to geometry and do it with a combination of clustering, walk-ups and multigrade groupings. Many kids working a year ahead, a few working 2 years ahead.

~ HW Mom
Benjamin Leis said…
@EdVoter - Sorry that wasn't meant to be cavalier. I think its a hard problem serving everyone at their level and assembling enough kids to make up a class is part of the issue. The nature of a math class (the fact they are sequential / the lack of teachers etc.) makes it harder to deal with than LA and even the middle school science track to some extent. Walk to math
can allow some flexibility but then you hit the same problem of what to do when the kids max out.

Anonymous said…
There's not even equity within individual schools. When one teacher's version of a class uses the Discovering text and a different teacher's version of the same class uses something good, it's all just luck of the draw...

Anonymous said…
I have found BHS pretty flexible in letting students accelerate in courses, including math, thus allowing students to create their own pathway regardless of what they took in MS.

BHS parent
Anonymous said…
How many classrooms are really using Discovering? I ask this knowing there is a group that does not like Discovering and tries to supplement/usurp/avoid it, but there are also a few schools where there are not enough Discovering textbooks anyhow and so teachers don't use them for the equity reason (how assign homework if every student doesn't have a book).

I know 1st hand of several cases of each in the HS, but I'm curious about parent feedback in terms of just how prevalent it is that teachers of their children do not use the district-adopted textbook for whatever reason (meaning I don't know that anybody, district staff/Board/observers) really know by % breakdown how infrequent the usage is. I hear from tutors that it "sounds like" over 50% of classrooms do not use the Discovering textbook (or any particular textbook period), although this lack of a consistent resource may be why so many kids struggle and thus their parents pay for tutoring. Some classrooms apparently pilot texts from Texas, New York, etc.

Textbook Questioner
Anonymous said…
BHS is using Discovery text and supplementing.

BHS Parent
Anonymous said…
So if your child is placed into 8th grade math in 6th grade at any middle school except APP middle schools, they get no instruction for geometry. But can they get into an APP school and get transportation, even of they aren't in APP and just take APP math and gened or honors for other classes? My fifth grader does walk to one year ahead but could do two years ahead and has the MAP scores to prove it. Not interested in Hamilton until we heard about this "cap" on math at middle schools. Are they now saying single subject capable, at least in math, are going to get to attend APP schools?
Anonymous said…
They haven't said anything. The AL Task Forces still need to put forth their recommendations, then T&L will do what they do.

Only students in the attendance zone of an APP school have access to APP level math acceleration, unless a school decides otherwise. So to say math is ability based, but not offer more advanced classes to non-APP students unless they are at an APP pathway school is somewhat disingenuous, yes?

Unknown said…
On the off chance that the area is commanding uniform material selection for all schools paying little heed to option status - unless they get waivers or are an assigned imaginative methodology school? - then why aren't schools after the math pathway? and also the children are Math Practice Test properly in school.
Hamilton Student said…
Currently, Hamilton middle school offers CMP1-3, Algebra 1 Honors, Geometry Honors, and Pre-Calculus Honors (meets Pre-Calc. requirements; although technically "Algebra Two"). For 2014-15, Mr. Pounder teaches ONE Pre-Calc. class-which has 33 student(s). At the moment, there are 26 7th graders in Geometry-probably ~2 will flunk/change schools(s), decided to repeat a course, etc. It is NOT decided for 2015-16...Mr. Pounder is retiring.

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