Friday, March 07, 2008

High school math not adding up in college

At Edmonds Community College, new students take a placement test for math. Of about 1,100 high school graduates who enrolled for 2006-07, only 48 percent tested into college level math and the rest had to take pre-college math to catch up.

Statewide, 46 percent of high school graduates who enter two-year colleges right out of high school need to take pre-college math.The transition to college math can be rocky for several reasons, said Pat Averbeck, Edmonds Community College math instructor.

"The catch is that some of our math is geared traditionally toward the science/math/engineering track," he said.

In contrast, high school students throughout the state are taught reform or "inquiry-based" math, which relies on student exploration and real life context rather than direct instruction and drill.

The issue isn't confined to community colleges. Many freshmen can't do basic math, said an open letter recently signed by 60 University of Washington math, science and engineering professors. The letter, released Thursday, Feb. 28, said that professors are seeing more and more students who can't solve math problems at even a middle school level.

The professors in the letter blame the way math is taught in the state, specifically the "inquiry" approach.

To address the transition between high school and college math locally, officials and teachers from the Edmonds School District and Edmonds Community College, including Averbeck, have been working together.

They've created a course that adds inquiry methods to a traditional college course. The class is supposed to act as a bridge for district high school students about to enter college and for Edmonds Community College freshmen who placed into pre-college math. The course will be piloted at the college this spring and at three district high schools next year: Edmonds-Woodway, Meadowdale and Lynnwood.

A "Transitions Math Project" grant from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, or OSPI, and the Gates foundation has funded two years of work on the topic.

The course is called "Transition College Math" at the high schools and Math 95 at the college. It can be described as Algebra 2 with more real-world applications and other inquiry-based teaching methods.

"A lot of kids get lost in Algebra 2 because it's heavily involved with the symbolic manipulation of algebraic symbols," said Ken Limon, assistant superintendent for the Edmonds School District. "This course makes relevancy a huge part of the curriculum, so people see real life examples of how that formula would help you answer something in real life. People feel the content is rich with the formulaic (part) and it's a good balance." The goal is to take the grade level expectations and the learning standards of K-12 and push them into the college so they have a similar set of standards, Limon said.

"Our goal is to help college math teachers understand those standards and use them in their classes so there won't be as much a need for a bridge," he said.

The Edmonds School District has been looking at the issue for several years. Five years ago, officials looked at the number of students not making it to college-level math.

At the time, about 60 percent of Edmonds district students who graduated and went to Edmonds Community College placed into pre-college math when they got there. The numbers are reduced now, Limon said. Three years ago, district officials did a study to find out why so many students were placing so low. They found that students who took at least up to Algebra 2 and who had good grades in their math classes did better on the college placement tests, Limon said. "Math is kind of like a foreign language," Limon said, referring to students who don't take math their senior year. "If you're out of practice for a whole year, it's pretty hard to take a college assessment."

Averbeck said there are many reasons that the transition between high school and college math can be rocky. The material is taught more quickly, students are expected to work more independently and some work full-time, he said.

The current pre-college math course at the college is Math 90, which uses traditional teaching methods.

"My students are saying: 'Why do I need to know this? I'm a drama major, I'm a lit major,'" Averbeck said. "I can't give them an answer – they'll never use it in their real life and won't use it in classes later on."

More traditional math instruction should be aimed at math and science majors, he said.

Editorial: See the original article.

10 comments: said...

If we allow students to avoid math classes their final year of high school, while planning to attend community college, we might as well let them take their entire senior year off.

The article is not talking about the huge number of students who don't go to college. We can naturally conclude that those would have been the students that opted out of math during their senior year in high school.

The students that were planning to go to community college and then actually enrolled are the ones that are placing into remedial math. said...

Achieving a higher percentage pass rate may actually be as easy as reducing the total number of college-bound students.

Anonymous said...

The District hired a new Assistent Superintendant whose sole job function is to address curriculum issues. I think what we need is an Assistant Superintendant Of Math Curriculum, Assistant Superintendant Of English Curriculum, Assistant Superintendant Of PE Curriculum, etc. I am not sure why Nick has not already proposed this idea, after all the cost could be offset by the reduced number of teaching and educational support staff that would be necessary once the new curriculum was in place.

Anonymous said...

Please remember that college entrance exams and tests such as the WASL, are not reflective of the performance of the District in student learning and assessment. Only the goals set by the District, and evaluated by the District have any accurate meaning with respect to student performance. Shame on you for relying on measure not formulated by knowledgeable persons.

Sarcasm intended.

Anonymous said...

"Our goal is to help college math teachers understand those standards and use them in their classes so there won't be as much a need for a bridge."

So is Limon saying that college standards need to be dumbed down because ESD can't be troubled to see that our kids in HS take math classes and actually learn something?

Anonymous said...

Look. Society has to make up its mind what it wants. We talk about education being #1 but there are so many things going on in society that present as evidence to the contrary.

We don't need cell phones in schools, especially ones that take pictures, have a calculator function, or can text message. 99% of cell phones in the schools are a distraction to the education process; they are not used for the stated purpose of "keeping in touch" with parents in case something goes wrong. Same with MP3 players and iPods-they don't belong at school; students do not have a God-given or Constitutional right to have them.

Parents who allow their children to substitute electronic game time for school work time are short- circuiting the teachers efforts. If parents don't back up discipline of students by school personnel trying to create a safe learning environment, the parents should home-school the student so the rest of the kids CAN learn.

If education IS #1, this is a place to start showing it. And don't even get me going on how little teachers are paid to put up with all this crap. Many adjectives apply, starting with "disgraceful."

Anonymous said...

The Seattle PI recently printed an article on this very subject.

Anonymous said...

You can't have a safe learning environment when the district can't even provide a safe working environment. Get him out now!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if we can place the blame entirely on Edmonds School District because the state of Washington is encouraging the type of Math curriculum the district is pushing. Terry Bergeson has an personal agenda and refuses to discuss the implications with business and higher ed.

This is a great forum to encourage blog readers to become more politically active; contact your representatives and senators and get involved in supporting them with facts and data about public education.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that you want to get some people started on what is being done to American schools at the moment.

Many of us see this as a large fight between people who know what they are doing and another group who THINKS they know what they are doing.

On the one hand we have the Gardner multiple-intelligences group which argues for multiple approaches to learning (and teaching) with a varitety of learning experiences available (expensive) and on the other hand, you have those in political power who say that we need to choose ONE way to do things and have backed up their viewpoint with NCLB, defining "success" and "failure" in a very narrow and unrealistic manner, adding a wad of money that is going to private industry for teaching "scientificly proven" methods (which means that schools have to buy a whole slug of new books) with money also going to testing companies (who, oddly enough, are subsidiaries of the publishing companies) to test the "learning" that is going on (cheap).

Educational tasks in the classroom are being pared to the lowest common denominator: all teachers at the same grade and subject area are to teach the same lesson. "Rigorous" curriculum is being eliminated because "consensus" has to be reached, and who wants to work hard? I was even told by one administrator that the goal of these reforms is to have a 3 ring binder in each classroom that will outline each day's lesson so simply that "anybody could come in and teach." "Anybody?" Do we want to turn our children over to "anybody?"

There are schools that are "in trouble" certainly, but the school is not the CAUSE of the trouble, but only a reflection of it and is the last hope to avoid it. The problems that walk through the school house door are generally not the fault of the school; when a school is "failing" it is merely reflecting the "failure" of the segment of society that it is serving. It is not the fault of the teacher that Jane's mother has to work three jobs to pay the rent and get food on the table, doesn't speak English very well, and is not be able to help Jane with her homework or take her to the zoo or a museum or a folklife festival or some other enriching experience. It is not the school's fault that Jack has to spend the weekends away from his house and can't get his homework done because his parents are selling drugs there Friday through Sunday. In an affluent suburban school, if Jimmie has been given everything that his heart has desired and he doesn't see the point of doing any school work and would rather disrupt the class in order to get the attention he is not getting at home, that is not the fault of the school, either.

We take in whatever problems walk through our doors. Yes, learning sometimes suffers while we are dealing with those problems, but if we had public support and resources appropriate to the task, we could be doing better.

As long as we are fighting over how to slice up a 12" pie, we're still only going to be slicing up a 12" pie and not solving the underlaying problems.