Students need to be allowed to learn math at a slower pace

September 9, 2009 — by Alex Ju and Lillian Chen

Saratoga High School students, trapped in a competitive environment that excels in academics, are under constant pressure to get ahead. For everyone from the many students who take geometry during the summer before freshman year to those who go through intense tutoring, the goal is the same: to get through as much math that they can, as quickly as they can.

But what is the point of racing through such an important subject? After a crammed six-week geometry course, students often find themselves struggling in their new advanced math classes, lacking a thorough grasp on the foundation upon which their new class is based. I

n addition, nearly every major educational study has proven that learning a subject over the course of a year results in better retention than being exposed to the same subject over a few weeks, allowing students to better understand proofs and theorems when they come up again later in trigonometry and other math classes. Math, after all, is purely constructive, with one concept building upon another. This is why it is so important to have a sound foundation in the subject.

Many students following the aforementioned mathematical trajectory are doing so to get calculus done in junior year, allowing them to take AP statistics as a senior. However, many universities prefer that students retake calculus as part of their undergraduate studies, regardless of their AP scores, because they feel it is such an important topic. This makes the push to finish calculus as quickly as possible even more pointless.

How do math teachers feel? They strongly (though futilely) discourage the parents of eighth graders at Redwood Middle School from putting their children in a geometry course over the summer. The department warns that at the end of the summer course, their children may not even make it into the Algebra 2 Honors, since they must pass a geometry test administered as a prerequisite to enroll in the higher-level math class.

California standards are also moving forward. Set to take place this school year, 2009-2010, all eighth graders will be required to complete Algebra 1. This change is because several eighth graders have been permitted to take an assessment, which covers sixth and seventh grade math instead of Algebra 1. This assessment system was not up to par with the United States Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, which approves everything that is taught to elementary and middle school students.

However, the rising standards are just increasing the pressure on students to get ahead. Many of them, such as those taking summer school for geometry, are trying their best to go beyond what California expects of them. Moving the standards just intensifies student stress.

Despite the negative side effects, it seems unlikely that students will stop pushing to get ahead. Perhaps, though, some parents will realize that their students don’t need to rush through such a critical subject and that it is better to pace oneself in matters of education than to build skyscrapers of knowledge on a foundation of sand.

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