About this site

I was a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. This site was originally used for the purpose of communicating with school district constituents, however now it is used for surfacing ideas and expressing opinions on various subjects in education, politics, business, or otherwise.

Please note that any opinion express here is purely personal and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of anyone else or any organization with which I am, or have been, associated.

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May 2014
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Update on Math Pathways

At last night’s board meeting, we received an update on the District’s proposal for handling Common Core math implementation in the San Carlos School District. I wrote a detailed summary of our prior meeting in April where we went through some of the options and understood a bit better the approach behind Common Core. The big takeaways from that meeting included: (a) Common Core math is a much richer set of standards with an aim to significantly deepen students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics; (b) Common Core rethinks the sequence of when certain concepts are taught and blows up the boxes between what we formerly called certain areas of math, like Algebra, Geometry, etc. — in other words, certain parts of these “higher-level” math courses are actually taught a lot earlier than before; and (c) this is a very complex, multi-layered issue that has required extensive work by our math teachers and administrators, in collaboration with their high school counterparts. Because of all this, it is extremely difficult to compare our current offerings to the Common Core offerings. Some high schools for example, have embraced an “integrated” approach where they even remove the historical labels (Algebra, Geometry, etc.) altogether, and even though the Sequoia Union High School District is implementing Common Core, they are keeping a “traditional” nomenclature and sequencing.

As one could imagine, there is a fair bit of confusion and angst around this change, both because of the lack of comparability to the past as well our lack of history and data about what will best work for students. The District has continued to work hard on this issue and has had lots of community input (including at a meeting on May 7). Based on all of this, the Board received a more specific proposal last night, and I applaud the District staff for all of the hard work and for coming up with solutions that address so many of the needs and concerns.

My observation here is that there has been a healthy tension between parents who largely appear to be most concerned (and understandably so) about whether their kids will be challenged enough and educators who worry that the new deeper Common Core curriculum will actually be much more difficult and that we risk making inappropriate placement decisions if we use the same framework as before, e.g. “my child must take Algebra (or Geometry) by 8th grade.” Both of these perspectives are valid, and we must recognize that this is in the context of much uncertainty — all being new, we have no experience or data to inform decisions on placements of students and pacing of offerings.

So, to address all this, the District is proposing a broad set of offerings, with a number of different “paces” to find an appropriate one for each student. Although there has been some concern over the last few months by many parents that we wouldn’t any more be offering an “accelerated” class for 6th graders and/or a Geometry class for 8th graders, these options will indeed remain open. You can see the entire presentation from last night’s meeting, but the most relevant new piece of information was slide 5 (click on the image to enlarge):

These three “paces” should accommodate almost all of our students, but we will must recognize that each class is still more advanced than its counterpart in the past. For example, being proficient in Common Core Geometry as an 8th grader should be much more difficult than it is even now, so although there is no way to predict the percentage of the student body that will fall into each of these paths, the educators are saying they think this “3 year pace” may be reserved for a very small number of students.

The next step is for the middle schools to develop their schedule for next year and look at student placements. Parents will be hearing soon about the placement process for next year. But given that we will be in a transition period for the next few years, we must recognize that we will make mistakes in placement. So, the Board consensus last night was that we need to build in extra flexibility and fluidity into the system so that we can accommodate (and indeed, even expect) the movement of students from one “pace” to another, either from year-to-year or within a given year. Also, we must ensure that there will be frequent communication throughout the year with individual parents to best understand how their student is doing in the current placement and also provide the appropriate level of support for each child during any change.

In general, these changes are all very exciting, but they will certainly produce some anxiety (particularly among parents) as it moves forward. Perhaps in three to five years these issues will be moot as we will have the experience and the data to be certain in our offerings and student placements, but for now we will work forward in partnership between our dedicated educators and families.

2 comments to Update on Math Pathways

  • Katie Stamos

    Thank you for the update and helpfully linking to the presentation. I understand the perspectives on all sides and the difficult nature of such a change.

    My question is whether students will have the opportunity to remain on track to complete both AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC by the time they graduate high school?

    Thank you for any insight you can provide.

  • Seth

    Katie — although I’m not familiar with the future plans at the high school, one can guess that they will have to adjust their pathways over time. But for now, it doesn’t look like it would be much of a change from the current state, meaning kids who take Geometry at SCSD would reach calculus by 11th grade (and could potentially do a second calculus course or another math course in senior year). For kids who take Algebra in 8th grade, my understanding is that there is more flexibility at Sequoia than at Carlmont to further accelerate their path to do the same, but in either case they would certainly be able to take AB or BC calculus. But this question may be better posed to the high school district as we may need some inside into their future strategy here.