I am sitting in my office. As I look out the window two thoughts are juxtaposed in my head. The first is the hopefulness of spring. I marvel at the snow, anticipating the buds that will crop up every year like clockwork. The second is the thought of summer: barren trees giving way to verdant lusciousness.
For some reason, the season’s excitement reminds me of the eighth-grade math placement season. This significant time in a seventh grader’s life will map out his or her fate for mathematics education over the next five years. Why are we determining whether a student is Calculus-eligible in 12th grade when the student is all of twelve years old? And what are the ramifications?
In my travels to over 100 colleges and universities, I have noticed that the more highly selective schools also expect to see the word Calculus somewhere on the high school transcript, whether the student wishes to major in Chemical Engineering, Finance, or Comparative Literature!
So, yes, having that word Calculus on a transcript is a differentiator, in Harry Potter parlance, of the sorting hat kind.
I started to think more about this because Facebook postings got to me. A parent was venting about this whole conundrum and how different school districts in my area treat acceleration placement. So I decided to come up with my own, as the armchair quarterback.
I do believe in parent choice, in tandem with a teacher’s recommendation. If a teacher is strongly concerned with acceleration, the parent does need to listen to the reasons why. However, kids mature: rarely do I find the 14-year-old I begin working with in 9th grade resembling that 12th grader about to leave home for greener pastures.
Schools need to think creatively about adolescent mathematics education. One option could be a six-month acceleration deferral, where a student begins Algebra I mid-year in eighth grade, eventually catching up to his or her peers by 11th grade. The GAP (Geometry/Algebra II/Precalculus) option is excellent. Another option would be to enable students to complete a one-semester Precalculus program in conjunction with 11th grade Algebra II and Trigonometry.
Remember, you are the parent. You are the expert on your child. You are the customer. And the customer is always right.
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