A New Look at Freshman Math Classes

October 2017 (Volume 68, Issue 1)

The start of a new school year at NHS constantly brings changes in the form of expansions, faculty, and, more recently, a new system of letters and numbers that has returning students rolling their eyes. One of the most significant changes this year stems from Pollard Middle School’s new expansion of their A and B level math classes. Previously, with just two different leveled classes, many former or current eighth graders have felt unchallenged by the curriculum that attempts to incorporate over 80% of the class. Thus, by averaging various abilities and creating an environment that nurtures students’ greater mathematical interests, a new math course path has been formed.

Now that the middle school offers various levels, this change has drastically expanded upon the high school’s long “Standard, Honors, Accelerated” tradition, creating five different levels for freshman mathematics. These range from sophomore level geometry to College Prep Math 9 Integrated. This presents a promising solution to a consistent problem of addressing specific student needs in math classes. Many students have felt either held back or lost in mathematics courses throughout their education as a result of an inappropriate math level placement. This new system of separation enables students to gravitate towards a level and speed of math that feels comfortable for them, where they can keep up with a class and, hopefully, feel confident.

Some argue, however, that this increased stratification of math levels adds an unnecessary amount of stress for young students, as it reaches back to middle school math levels and may breed a class of students who feel pressure to push themselves in math at a very early age. Senior Caitlin O’Malley, a BC Calculus student, expresses her concern for students’ abilities to move up in math levels throughout high school: “With the way they do it now, you are fast-tracked into whatever math course you’re in.” O’Malley argues that the previous system allowed for more improvement and fluidity between math levels. Furthermore, eighth graders who were unable to place into the highest level course have noted feeling left out or less intellectual compared to those who have.

Michelle Mittaz, a freshman in geometry, traditionally a sophomore year course, admits that, “It is a little stressful at times. Sometimes I get a little nervous to answer questions because if I get it wrong I feel like sophomores will think I shouldn’t be in their class.” Despite this slight added pressure, Mittaz asserts, “I am glad I am in the class”.

Mittaz’s positive feedback is not unusual. The program is still new, and much is to be seen about its effects on student growth and progress in mathematics, but many have reacted positively so far. This program has aided incoming freshman who have struggled to adapt to the large gap between A level math classes and more rigorous Algebra 2 classes. Hopefully, new programs that individualize students’ academic opportunities will develop and improve the American education system. The new idea of math level stratification allows for Needham High School’s goal of providing an academic environment fit for each of its students.

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