ICCSD Junior High Mathematics Curriculum Change

Algebrarev

The November 11, 2014, Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) board agenda states that ICCSD plans to eliminate Math 7A, a junior high mathematics course, starting in the fall of 2015.1 Students who previously took Math 7A would instead be placed in Math 7, which is a higher level course. (For ICCSD mathematics course offerings found as of today’s post, see links to the information from the NWJH and SEJH websites below.2) The ICCSD Mathematics Program Improvement Plan (Draft#1) states as “Recommendations and Action Support” that ICCSD will “use differentiated instruction to deliver grade level content to all students in grade 7” and “monitor students who would have taken Math 7A and provide appropriate support.” 3

This raises additional issues:
1) Whether additional money will be allocated in the budget to provide extra support to struggling math students?

2) What metrics will ICCSD use to determine whether differentiation works going forward, and will these metrics measure the progress of all students or just those who would have taken Math 7A in the past?

While moving Math 7A students into Math 7 will be a positive step, if properly implemented, it raises other questions such as what is the district doing to ensure that more students are able to enroll in Algebra I in 8th grade? Having more students take Algebra I in eighth grade means that more students will be able to take calculus in high school, which, in turn, can help students be more prepared for college math. The Office of Civil Rights Data for the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) showed that only 3.7% of Black students were enrolled in Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade in 2011 even though Black students represented 16.6% of ICCSD’s enrollment for the same time period.4 This statistic deserves further attention because real equity means more than replacing an Equity Director vacancy.

Shouldn’t more students be placed in Algebra I in 8th grade, which would require more students to take Pre-Algebra in 7th grade? In Minnesota, “students in the graduating class of 2015 and beyond must also complete an algebra I credit by the end of eighth grade.”5 While Minnesota’s model may be too extreme, it bears thoughtful consideration whether more ICCSD students could successfully complete Algebra 1 in ICCSD’s junior highs with the right support. If ICCSD is going to move students who previously would have been in Math 7A to Math 7, it should also permit more students who previously would have been assigned to Math 7 to take Pre-Algebra I. It is not enough to bring additional students to a proficient level of mathematics; more students, especially minority students, need to make progress relative to their peers.

1 Page 201 at http://www.iowacityschools.org/files/_6GEhz_/231c222bb6ea49723745a49013852ec4/Reviswed_Agenda.pdf

2 See http://www.edline.net/files/_kCBcI_/8ca7d83e4c4e21c93745a49013852ec4/Course_Guide.pdf from Southeast Junior High website including ICCSD Mathematics Paths in Grades 7-12 on page 10 and http://www.edline.net/files/_deEBa_/e90c928b292a3acc3745a49013852ec4/Fowchart10-05-west.pdf for the westside version (dated October 2005) found on Northwest Junior High’s website. I am unsure how up-to-date this information is.

3 http://www.iowacityschools.org/files/_6DCWp_/7e2fdab3357e29bc3745a49013852ec4/2015_Math_Improvement_Plan_Draft__1.pdf

4 http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Page?t=d&eid=31705&syk=6&pid=736. More current data is not available on this website as of the time of posting.

5 http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/GradReq/

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2 Responses to ICCSD Junior High Mathematics Curriculum Change

  1. Chris Liebig says:

    I don’t know what to think about this particular proposal, but if it’s designed to lead to more high schoolers taking calculus, I have my doubts about that. Trying to funnel more students into calculus seems like ratcheting up expectations purely for the sake of ratcheting up expectations. Very few adults have any need for calculus in their jobs or daily lives. Those who will need it will have ample opportunity to take it in college when their interests lead them in that direction. (And will a high school course ever really be a substitute for college calculus anyway?)

    It sometimes seems like the district pushes AP courses just so it can boast about its AP enrollment (and about national “rankings” that follow from that) and not out of any considered judgment that the enrolled students are well served by that kind of course. I hope that the math curriculum changes will be driven by what’s good for students overall, and not by any desire to boast about how many of its high schoolers are taking calculus. Many students might be better served by taking an additional elective in a topic of their choice than by taking calculus simply because that’s what’s “next” in the math curriculum.

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    • Mary says:

      Hi Chris, Thank you for reading my post. I doubt this change is designed to lead more students into taking calculus in high school. I believe you need to take Pre-Algebra in seventh grade to be on schedule to take Calculus in ICCSD as a senior without doubling up in math. Putting students into Math 7 instead of 7A may be the result of the common core and its supporters’ push for more rigor? I probably wouldn’t have characterized the 7A students as “students of limited ability” as the district document seemed to (footnote 3). I suspect some are students who aren’t motivated on their own or didn’t have enough of a rigorous math background or don’t test well, for example.

      I did not have access to calculus in my small town high school because it wasn’t offered, and when I took it in college, it seemed almost everyone else had taken it in high school. My impression is that those students who took it in high school were at an advantage when they took it again in college because some of the material was a repeat for them–in fact so much material was repetitive for those students who had taken it in high school when I took it in college that the professor skipped ahead. There are probably some more students who could take Algebra I in eighth grade in ICCSD, and if there are students who want to take it, we should let them. I like the approach I’ve seen in some of my own children’s high school courses where students can start out in a higher level course and drop down if they choose to early in the semester.

      The national rankings from the Washington Post based on enrollment in AP coursework are perplexing at best. I’m not opposed to students taking an elective instead of calculus; however, for those students who want to be on track to take calculus as a senior, I’d like to see more accomodated.

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