Students, Staff Address Pre-Calc Drop Rate

By Maddie Asch and Alex Price

Since the beginning of the school year, 22 percent of Pre-Calculus students have dropped the class.

Out of the 93 students who started in pre-calculus, 20 students dropped out of the course within the first three months of the school year.

“This is the biggest drop we’ve seen probably in the last… two years,” said counselor Evelyn Dorsett.

Three Pre-Calculus classes are being offered this year, all of which are taught by math teacher Peter Foster. “I think there were a couple students that were recommended for trig-stat and they decided to try pre-calculus, and were kind of overwhelmed,” he said. “There were a lot of drops that happened in the first one or two weeks of school where a student would do a homework assignment or two and then drop the class.”

Those that dropped the class had several options. Some juniors have chosen to drop out of math completely this year, and plan on taking Trigonometry/Statistics during their senior years. The majority of students, however, have stayed enrolled in math, but have moved to either pre-calculus or trigonometry/statistics online classes, or transferred into Trigonometry/Statistics at Tam.

According to math teacher Rebecca Henn, the higher level of understanding required for pre-calculus causes students  to struggle, as they can no longer follow a set structure laid out by the teacher.

“When we do proofs, I can’t get up there and tell [the student] what to do,” Henn said of teaching pre-calculus. “[They’re] just at that level with [their] mathematical thinking where [they’ve] got to start taking more creative solutions and pulling all this together [themselves].”

Junior Annika Jackson, who is currently taking pre-calculus, has noticed more demanding expectations in her class than in previous years of math. “Pre-calc does not allow room for usual math techniques like memorization but forces you to use all previous math knowledge and new concepts to solve a complicated problem; it’s easy to get lost in the jungle each problem creates,” she said.

According to math teachers interviewed, part of the challenge of pre-calculus is the large amount of curriculum teachers have to fit into a very short time period.  “You have to have an iron class strategy for getting all of that material taught and learned and practiced on a limited time schedule,” said Math Department Teacher Leader David Wetzel. “There’s a lot of situations in calc where you have to spend the entire period going through curriculum, with very, very little time for practice in class.”

This rigorous curriculum has proved a challenge for many students, such as junior Avery Robinson, who dropped out of Pre-Calculus to take it online. “I found myself having to relearn the material at home before doing homework, even if I had paid full attention in class that day… [The time it took] was not only impacting my sleep schedule but also taking an emotional toll. I would sometimes have sort of breakdowns because I would be so stressed about just pre-calc,” she said.

According to Dorsett, most of the students who dropped the class pointed to the demanding workload as a factor in their decision.

Yet Wetzel believes that students should be doing only one hour of math homework a night. “Anything more than that, there’s an issue… If it’s taking you more than an hour to an hour and a half to do your homework, it’s not practice,” he said.

Multiple students interviewed said during the acclamation period at the beginning of the year, their homework took up to six hours, and afterwards it remained at around two hours.

Calculus teacher Susan Proksch believes one cause of the time consuming workload comes from students’ lack focus as they do their homework. “[The amount of time homework takes you] depends on how [you] do [your] homework. I mean you’re a teenager; how often is your phone on?” she said.

Wetzel stressed the need for students to take initiative with their learning and even look ahead in the textbook or class calendar to be prepared. Additionally the math teachers interviewed said the department offers many resources to help support students.

“We have the math assistance program, where we have something scheduled in the mornings, something scheduled in the afternoon, everyday of the week for students to come in and see a math teacher,” Wetzel said.

In addition Foster has opened up Tuesday and Thursday lunches for students to come in and ask him questions. However, according to Foster, students should rely on independent learning as well. Sophomore, Julia Sheppard believes that this style makes her grow as a student.  “Asking for help… he doesn’t just want to spoon feed you the answer, he wants to help you learn so sometimes he can be a little harsh about it but I think that you have to realize that he’s doing it for your own good,” she said.

Foster emphasized that students should not wait to ask him questions. “Whenever my students are challenged by the homework either because of the difficulty or length of the assignment, it is always helpful for them to tell me immediately so I can respond to them the very next class,” he said.

According to Wetzel the main problem is the communication between student, parents, and teachers around Pre-Calculus.  “The guideline that we have to follow [when a student wants to drop a class] is that the student and the parent need to meet with the teacher… and see what the student can do to get help in the class,” said Dorsett.

Yet Foster said that of the 20 student that dropped the class, he recalls only “one meeting [and] maybe two phone calls [with parents], and I think that was about it.”