Pro: Redwood Middle School’s math policy harmful to student growth

February 12, 2019 — by Rohan Kumar and Oliver Ye

Limiting the math classes that students can takes prevents proficient and advanced mathematicians from living up to their potential

Many middle schools impose restrictions on what math classes students can take. Redwood Middle School is no exception.

Currently, for instance, the highest math class that sixth graders can take is Algebra 1. Although these policies have been implemented for years and are put into place with good intentions, they ultimately stifle student achievement.

Forcing students to take classes that teach concepts they already know fails to help gifted students maximize their potential. Saratoga has dozens of elite-level math students who participate in competitions annually, such as the AIME and the USAMO, which have much more advanced concepts than those taught in school. As a result, some of these students are more than capable of easily solving all the problems that school math provides.

To begin, there is a wide spectrum of students in terms of math skill. According to registrar Robert Wise, using students who take Geometry as a freshman as a reference point, there are currently 429 students who have skipped one level in math, 431 students who have skipped two years and over 62 students who are taking courses that are more than three levels faster than the normal pace (not including students that are taking college courses such as multivariable calculus). To limit what math classes students can take is to group all students into the same level of math simply based on age alone; it is denying that there exists skill discrepancies between each student.

The disparity in skill levels is already evident in the freshman year math curriculum. There are students on either side of the math spectrum, ranging from some who are mastering basic concepts in Sequential Math to the 131 students taking a highly challenging Algebra 2 Honors class to the one student who is already taking AP Calculus BC.

While preventing students from skipping too many levels at once may combat some stress in theory, this problem can be solved in other ways without stifling their potential. With advice from  parents, teachers and counselors, younger teens are fully capable of making academic decisions that work best for them. In fact, if they are too restricted in what they are able to take, their parents may simply remove them from public schools and seek private school alternatives.

Of course, it is possible that students will sign up for classes beyond their abilities, so Redwood should allow students to rectify this mistake by implementing a comprehensive drop policy similar to that of Saratoga High. If a class is too difficult, the student should be allowed to drop to a lower level. Currently, although they can shift up or down one level, students cannot drop a math class.

While some educators and others argue that allowing students to skip more math levels will result in students who lack foundations that are required for more advanced classes, many students clearly have these strong foundations, and a comprehensive and well-designed placement test would be able determine which students have the necessary fundamentals and which don’t. Currently, Redwood does do extensive testing to determine which math level suits a child’s needs, and its current placement system also works to place students into more advanced classes.

Overall, limiting students’ options by restricting the number of math levels they can skip harms much more than it helps. Concerns of student stress can be amended through simple policies such as enforcing a more lenient drop policy and actively involving parents if students are not performing adequately. In the end, schools should teach students useful, challenging content, not merely the ability to sleep through lectures.

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