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Los Altos School District parents asked the board to add a geometry class for eighth-graders so that their children have the opportunity to take advanced math classes, such as multivariable calculus at Los Altos High School, left, once in high school.
Los Altos School District parents invested in advancing their children’s educational opportunities filled the district board room last week to advocate a geometry option for eighth-graders.
District students currently can begin an advanced mathematics track in sixth grade, but that only takes them through Algebra I at the conclusion of eighth grade. Neighboring Mountain View-Whisman School District offers geometry for its advanced eighth-grade students.
Statistics collected by Assistant Superintendent Alyssa Gallagher reveal that 30 percent of Mountain View-Whisman students enter the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District taking Algebra II or Algebra II Honors.
Parents argue that students in the Los Altos School District spend three years completing a two-year academic program of Pre-Algebra and Algebra I in the advanced track.
“The Los Altos School District keeps its students doing warm-ups while Whisman and Cupertino students are running full speed,” said parent Don Hana. “In a four-lap race, the Los Altos School District students enter the race a whole lap behind.”
Adding geometry to the equation
Parents concerned about the math curriculum formed the LASDMath Group, an online Yahoo group with more than 150 members. Not offering geometry classes for advanced students, they claim, directly affects high school opportunities and in turn college applications and opportunities, and subsequently career and education opportunities for students.
Los Altos School District staff and trustees, while generally supportive of the parents’ efforts, plan to take a cautious approach to implementation.
Gallagher, who offered a presentation on the math program at the board meeting, said that when she talked to neighboring districts that offer geometry classes for eighth-graders, she was told that they might be accelerating students too quickly. The other districts noted that many students struggled in Algebra II when they reached high school. She added that some of those districts are reviewing ways to reconfigure their geometry programs, possibly changing the qualifications for eighth-graders who tackle advanced coursework.
Parents had a different view on students who had taken geometry.
Parent Premika Ratnam, moderator for the LASDMath Group, said that when the parents contacted MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves, he told them that 86 percent of students were successful in Algebra II freshman year, meaning those students earned an A or B in the class.
Trustee Mark Goines, a math major in college, said that because he took geometry in 10th grade, he was unable to take trigonometry in high school and studied it on his own in college, never fully mastering the subject.
“I think there is a really good case here to accelerate as many students as we can,” he said.
Goines requested additional data on how to implement the program starting in sixth grade, and asked whether it would require extra staff.
“I’m in favor of doing something here, but I am worried about whether we can make it work for all the students who take math, not just the students who are qualified to take geometry,” he said.
Trustee Tammy Logan said parents should “relax” about their children’s college prospects. She said district students get into the best colleges – despite whether or not they took geometry in eighth grade.
“My personal concern is that we want to make sure that these kids are truly successful and not just checking off little boxes on their resume,” Logan said.
Trustee Steve Taglio said he wants to make sure that students are prepared for the accelerated math track, not just being pushed by parental pressure.
Trustee Pablo Luther expressed his desire that district offerings remain on par with neighboring districts.
“We need to be competitive or we will get left behind,” he said.
Board President Doug Smith said he favored moving forward with the proposal but stressed the importance of communicating to parents early on how to enter the advanced math track and how to measure the outcome for parents considering the program in the future.
Trustees and district staff agreed that it was important for the high schools to design a math track that flows seamlessly into their curriculum as a whole.
Gallagher said she plans to return with more information on the topic at a May board meeting.
Parents said they remain hopeful that a program could be implemented beginning next year.
“Our children want to be successful,” Ratnam said. “We need to focus not on why something shouldn’t happen, but focus on why something should happen and find a way to make it happen. We need to offer this starting in the fall because their lives are at stake.”