SFUSD to let students test out of Algebra 1 in high school after parents raise concerns 

click to enlarge David Gardner, center, teaches math at Mission High School. Due to Common Core State Standards, Algebra 1 became a requirement for all SFUSD freshmen this school year. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • David Gardner, center, teaches math at Mission High School. Due to Common Core State Standards, Algebra 1 became a requirement for all SFUSD freshmen this school year.

Next fall's incoming freshman at San Francisco public high schools will have the option to test out of Algebra 1, a class now required for all ninth-grade students.

San Francisco Unified School District officials announced the change Monday after coming under fire from families worried the new requirement would hold back their children. Hundreds of Lowell High School parents, students and alumni signed petitions this month urging the district to offer an alternative for incoming ninth-grade students who have already taken Algebra 1.

Algebra 1 became a requirement for ninth-grade students to align with the Common Core State Standards course sequence, which was adopted by the Board of Education in 2014 and rolled out districtwide this school year. It is the first significant change to SFUSD's math curriculum since 1997.

Per the Common Core curriculum, geometry follows Algebra 1 and is required of sophomores. However, students who pass the new validation exam will be enrolled in geometry as a freshman, district officials said.

"We want to make sure that kids have access to the rigor [of the course sequence]," said Lizzy Hull Barnes, the district's mathematics program administrator. "The validation exam will allow us to ensure that kids have mastered the content of Common Core Math 8 and Common Core Algebra 1 before they progress in the Common Core sequence."

Lowell's petitions requested that the school be allowed to continue providing placement tests for incoming freshmen. That way, for instance, students from private schools who take algebra in eighth grade will not have to repeat the course, explained Missy Sue Mastel, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Lowell.

"The idea of the Common Core as we understood it is to create a minimum bar, but it was not to create a maximum achievement level," Mastel said.

And that is precisely why the SFUSD adopted its Common Core-aligned courses last year: to provide a "deeper, richer understanding" of math for all students by the time they enter high school, a feat the previous curriculum lacked, Barnes said.

In fact, data from the district showed that just 22 percent of students in the class of 2014 were proficient in Algebra 2 by the end of 10th grade, she noted.

"What we were doing as a system is losing 78 percent of our kids along the way," Barnes said. "We're not saying [students] don't get to go as far as [they] want, we're saying the old course sequence was not working for kids."

But Annette Hurst, another San Francisco parent, said the Common Core math curriculum is still too limited for students who want to skip Algebra 1 in ninth grade, despite Monday's announcement that students will have the option to test out.

"The larger problem is a weakness in the curriculum for high-achieving students," Hurst said. "Letting students test around it ... is not equitable. It's not an option for all students in the district."

On Friday, Hurst created a separate petition urging the SFUSD to reinstate Algebra 1 as an option for eighth-grade students. Per the Common Core curriculum, all eighth-grade students are taught Math 8, which weaves in elements of algebra.

Specifically, Hurst is requesting what is referred to as a three-into-two option for the district, which takes the math course progression from seventh through ninth grade and packs it into seventh and eighth grade.

"That allows you to cover more rigorous and broad algebra by the end of eighth grade," Hurst said.

Hurst's petition had garnered more than 430 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the district plans to iron out the details of the algebra validation exam, which will be administered in April. The SFUSD's Division of Curriculum and Instruction will support the administration, calibration, and scoring of the exams.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Bio:
Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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Sunday, Nov 19, 2017

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