The Los Altos School District plans to eliminate grade-level seventh- and eighth-grade math classes, to the frustration of the district’s middle school math teachers.
For the past five years, there have been three math pathways for middle schoolers, which roughly correlated into students who were working at grade level, above grade level and way above grade level. But over time, the demographics of one class in particular, the seventh-grade grade-level math class, shifted. The class started to lack diversity of ability levels and interest in math.
“In our district, grade-level math is not really grade level, because most of the kids aren’t in it,” said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Sandra McGonagle.
No changes will be made in the next school year, which the district will spend planning and preparing for the change. In the 2020-2021 school year, seventh-grade math for seventh-graders (CC7) will be eliminated. The following year, eighth-grade-level math for eighth-graders (CC8) will be eliminated, and the district will be down to two math pathways for middle school students.
Some teachers and families do not believe the change is a good idea because they’re worried that students will struggle if they’re placed in a math class out of their depth.
Seventh-graders can currently take either CC7 (grade-level), CC7/8 (above grade-level) or algebra (way above grade level). But in the Los Altos School District, the majority of students are operating above grade level.
This year, 77 seventh-grade students are enrolled in CC7, 213 are enrolled in CC7/8 and 220 are taking algebra. McGonagle said that when the district switched to Common Core State Standards and introduced CC7, there was a diversity of confidence levels and ability levels in the course. Some students in the class thought they were good at math and liked math, and some students felt discouraged about their math ability. Based on their test scores, their teachers determined they would do best in CC7, with as much time as possible to learn the material and work at their level.
But over time, the demographics of the class shifted. Now, most of the students at Egan Junior High School and Blach Intermediate School in CC7 feel that they are not good at math and they don’t like math, McGonagle said.
“If you don’t feel good and confident in math and no one in your class feels good and confident in their ability to do math, it’s hard to change,” she said.
At Blach, now most of the students in CC7 have learning challenges, McGonagle said. At Egan, the class is mostly a combination of low-socioeconomic-status Hispanic students and students with learning disabilities.
With the new pathways, students who would currently be placed in CC7 and CC8, grade-level math, will be placed into pre-algebra and algebra classes, respectively.
Adversity and diversity
Moving students who are struggling in math to a higher level could damage their confidence. In October, all of the math teachers at Blach and Egan wrote a letter to the district urging them not to make the change.
“After years of saying that CC7 is a good program because it is a RIGOROUS GRADE LEVEL curriculum, we are now saying it’s not enough,” the letter said. “Why is grade level good enough for all other subjects except for math? We have made such great strides with some of these kids who faced academic adversity or who didn’t believe that they could be successful in math – CC7 has been a place where they could build their confidence and skill.”
After the letter from the math teachers, district administrators decided to slow down the process and delay the change from next school year to the following year, to allow more time to plan for the change.
At last week’s district board meeting, Blach teacher Sharon Moerner argued CC7 is the right class for some students, and they shouldn’t be denied the space to learn at their pace.
“They went to CC7 because they needed more time to be able to really grasp and comprehend the material,” she said.
Moerner, who’s been teaching math at Blach for 20 years, said not every CC7 course is homogeneous. The class she teaches is diverse; she has some students who struggle in CC7 and some who do well.
The district also wants to make the change so that more students have the opportunity to attend a four-year university after high school. If they’re in the current, slowest math pathway, they may not complete Algebra II by the time they graduate from high school, which is a prerequisite for most four-year universities.
To support students in a more difficult course, the district has many ideas that will be fleshed out into individual plans by the time the new pathways are enacted, including tutorial sessions for students, summer math programs, co-taught courses so that students receive more one-on-one support and teacher training on how to work with students at different levels.
“Our mutual goal is to ensure that students have the support they need for both access and success without contributing to student angst, anxiety or stress,” Moerner said.