You would think your child is able to do college work having followed the grade school and high school curricula and taken state exams designed to prepare them for college and earned a diploma.
Do you know what’s happening with mathematics?
Tens of thousands of students in Florida who graduate from high school aren’t ready for college. Only 34 percent of the 190,853 SAT Florida test takers in the Class of 2019 were considered ready for a college-level freshman math course.
The typical order of math classes in high school is:
- Algebra 1
- Algebra 2/Trigonometry
Mastering the building blocks – the order of math – allows students to be more successful in calculus and on the SAT, ACT and ALEKS Math Placement exams addressing college preparedness.
According to a study of more than 6,000 college freshmen at 133 colleges carried out by the Science Education Department of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “contrary to widely-held opinion, taking high school calculus isn’t necessary for success later in college calculus—what’s more important is mastering the prerequisites, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry—that lead to calculus.”
The situation varies dramatically among school districts but the plots below of forty-five districts show that most of the School District of Indian River County (SDIRC) Algebra 1 end-of-course exams this past spring were below average and the District’s math progression is not as strong as it should be, according to a methodology recently used here to rank districts on middle school Algebra 1
For all middle school passers SDIRC was ninth from the last.
SDIRC Black middle school passers was next to last for eighth grade. Black students are significantly underrepresented in Indian River County.
Of Florida’s 220,975 public school 7th graders, 10.1% (22,390) passed the Algebra 1 end of course exam thispastspring, according to the Florida Department of Education EdStats portal. But of the state’s 47,926 black public school 7th graders, only 5.2% (2,750) did so.
The 8th grade picture is similar. Of Florida’s 213,672 public school 8th graders, 29.0% (61,871) passed the Algebra 1 EOC this pastspring. The corresponding numbers for the state’s black students? Of 45,684 black 8th graders, only 18.0% (8,209) passed the Algebra 1 EOC.
This middle school educational deficiency in mathematics leads to another:
Pre-Calculus Diversion of College Bound Students
What this means within Indian River County is that middle school students who have not learned the building blocks of mathematics are “diverted” into Diversion courses such as Statistics and Liberal Arts Math instead of accelerated math such as Pre-Calculus and Calculus.
According to the Florida Department of Education in 2013 the SDIRC Diversion rate for Precalculus was 84%. In 2019 it will be 84%. The rate has remained stagnant ranging from 81%- 85% for the past seven years. For comparison, the Martin County percent for the same category was 57%.
Research indicates this may be due to the math curriculum in the foundational years being shallow and ineffective, instead of going for depth of understanding, rigor of coursework, and applications. Are math courses providing the indispensable building blocks upon which there is a solid foundation that leads to calculus? Missing blocks cause students to weaken and skipping or accelerating through these courses is having real implications for opportunities in high school and beyond.
A new approach to the mathematics pathways would be implementation of a math curriculum with a more robust foundation as well as a plan for mastery of calculus prerequisites algebra, geometry, and trigonometry that allows students to be more successful in calculus and on the SAT, ACT and ALEKS Math Placement exams.
“Concepts are memorized and forgotten or never learned. I believe it is why the overall enrollment and success in high level math courses is low and why students are struggling with IB and AP exams, the ACT and SAT tests, as well as the University ALEKS Math Placement exam,” according to a concerned parent.
Data from the 13 million students who took PISA tests showed that the lowest achieving students worldwide were those who used a memorization strategy – those who thought of math as a set of methods to remember and who approached math by trying to memorize steps.
According to Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics education at Stanford Graduate School of Education and lead author on a new working paper called “Fluency Without Fear,”:
“Mathematics is a broad and multidimensional subject. Real mathematics is about inquiry, communication, connections, and visual ideas. We don’t need students to calculate quickly in math. We need students who can ask good questions, map out pathways, reason about complex solutions, set up models and communicate in different forms.
The highest achieving students were those who thought of math as a set of connected, big ideas.”