Eliminated Math Classes Lead to Controversy

By Marina Furbush and Marina Furbush

This school year, Tam’s math department didn’t offer Algebra P1-P2, Geometry 1A-2A, or Intermediate Algebra, despite resistance from math teachers. A high number of students who were supposed to be in the canceled courses received failing grades first semester, resulting in teacher and parent pushback and the formation of a math task force, comprised of math teachers and other Tam staff and administrators meant to “address student achievement as we work to ensure students are college and career ready,” according to an email sent by principal Julie Synyard to members of the Tam community on March 27.

Synyard believes that the changes will help get students college and career ready. “[We looked] at all kind of courses and [asked ourselves] ‘do our courses truly align to our belief in getting all kids college and career ready?’ And in my opinion some of these courses did not,” Synyard said. “So the big impetus to get rid of [the classes] is to make sure that we are giving every kid who walks through Tam’s doors the opportunity to be college eligible if they so desire.”

Fall Grades for Students Recommended  for Intermediate Algebra Students recommended for Intermediate Algebra but placed in Advanced Algebra had a 43 percent pass rate compared to a 97 percent pass rate for students recommended  and placed in Advanced Algebra.

Fall Grades for Students Recommended for Intermediate Algebra
Students recommended for Intermediate Algebra but placed in Advanced Algebra had a 43 percent pass rate compared to a 97 percent pass rate for students recommended and placed in Advanced Algebra.

However, some teachers are apprehensive of the changes. “Now the lowest class you can take as a freshman is Algebra 1. You’re supposed to finish the entire class in one year, [then finish Geometry] in one year, [then] move on to Advanced Algebra and finish that in one year,” math department teacher leader David Wetzel said. “Essentially mandating that every student has to take Advanced Algebra to graduate from Tam because we have a three-year math requirement…. I believe that every student can learn and get through Advanced Algebra, but I do not believe that every student can do it… in the four years that we have to get them through it.”

Algebra P1-P2 and Algebra P3-P4 covered the Algebra 1 curriculum in two years instead of one. While both were canceled, Wetzel says P3-P4 was very similar to the current Algebra 1 course, into which all algebra students were placed this year. This semester, students recommended for P3-P4 but placed in Algebra 1 had a 95 percent pass rate, while students who had been recommended for P1-P2 and instead placed in Alegbra 1 had a 31 percent pass rate.

In addition to Algebra P1-P2, Intermediate Algebra, a non-UC approved math course that prepared students for Advanced Algebra, was canceled. “Intermediate Algebra would be extremely helpful, because I need a slower pace,” said junior Olivia Harband, who is currently in Advanced Algebra. “I am sure I could understand the algebra material, I just need more time to comprehend lessons before we move on to a more difficult concept.”
Harband is not alone in feeling rushed. “It’s really hard, it’s really fast. I don’t have enough time to learn all the things before I’m tested on something that I still can’t fully understand,” said sophomore Maia Asiano, who was going to be in Intermediate Algebra but is now in Advanced Algebra. “I have a tutor and it’s still not enough.”

In the first semester, students who were recommended for Advanced Algebra had a 96.5 percent pass rate, while students who were initially placed into Intermediate Algebra had a mere 43 percent pass rate.

“I really enjoyed [Intermediate Algebra],” said senior Dakota Juarez who took Intermediate Algebra last year and is currently in Advanced Algebra. “It helped me remember all the things I had forgotten and to get prepared for Advanced Algebra.” Juarez feels that she wouldn’t be doing as well in Advanced Algebra this year if she hadn’t taken Intermediate Algebra.

Synyard identified the historically low success rate of students who took P1-P2 as a factor in the course canceling. “Historically we have some data that students who entered P1-P2 had between 13-20 percent chances of being UC-eligible at the end of four years,” Synyard said. “So we had some pretty strong concerns surrounding that.”

Fall Grades for Students Recommended for Algebra P1-P2 Students who were recommended for P1-P2 but were placed in Algebra 1 had a pass rate of 31 percent compared to a 95 percent pass rate for students recommenedd for Algebra P3-P4.

Wetzel does not agree with that logic. “I don’t agree or subscribe to the philosophy that absolutely every kid that graduates from high school has to be UC-eligible,” Wetzel said. “Mandating a kid to take Advanced Algebra that’s not ready for Advanced Algebra is not only eliminating them from the UC track because they’re going to fail the class, it’s eliminating them from the idea of success to even want to go to a junior college to then take those extra two years to get ready for a UC.

“Statistics show that [below grade level students] will not do well in [algebra] and they will not do well when they do it again,” Wetzel said. “[We should] create a path for all students so that they are ready to take that class when they get there, instead of forcing them to take it before they’re ready.”
Synyard acknowledged that there was resistance from teachers. “I would say the majority of the math department, if not all of the math teachers last year were against this move,” Synyard said. “I understand their concerns to make sure students are successful….I just think that if we set high expectations for our students, we put the proper supports in place, we have the proper training, the proper instructional strategies, we work together as a team, I really think great things can happen for kids.”

Synyard stands by the decision to cancel the canceled courses, and as of now there is no plan in place to reinstate P1-P2 or Intermediate Algebra.