Why I Won’t Put My Son in Accelerated Math (Part 2)

I wanted to post an update to my first post about acceleration in middle school.  My son is in 7th grade math this year and I thought it was important to share his progress.

I am using his test results below to demonstrate two points regarding some misinformation and in an attempt to debunk the myths that tend to get hurled by those who believe in back to basics (procedural, wrote, calculation) math.

Myth #1: Inquiry based math will not meet the needs of students who are on or above grade level.
Myth #2: Students who score on or above grade level should have access to an accelerated pathway to get the challenge they need to make growth in mathematics.

Before looking at his assessment results, here are a few facts about this year:

  • Our middle school students lost a quarter of learning last year, spent more than a quarter of this school year only attending classes 2 days a week, and the other part of this year attending 4 days and 1 virtual day (his virtual day he attends a choice program).
  • My son’s teacher is using Illustrative Mathematics (via the Desmos curriculum platform).
  • His teacher uses the 8 Math Practices and the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Discourse to purposefully look at, discuss, and connect student strategies.

This is his assessment from the beginning of the year.  According to this report, to meet typical growth of a student at his level, he should grow by 11 points on this assessment by the end of they year.

Skye diagnostic 1 typical growth

These are his middle of the year assessment results (after 1 quarter of 2 days of instruction and 1 quarter of 4):

Skye diagnostic 2 typical growth

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

Hopefully you noticed a few of things:

  • The curriculum is not holding him back. 
  • The course pathway is not holding him back. 
  • His teacher is not holding him back. 
  • In fact, the opposite is true.  He is being challenged and he STILL LOVES MATH!

He met the criteria to be placed in 8th Grade Algebra next year (at the beginning of this year – see a problem here?).  An email went out and I promptly responded asking that he be placed in 8th grade math next year.  Why?  Because I believe that 8th grade math is the foundation on which Algebra 1 and Geometry are built and I want him to enter high school equipped to succeed in both of these gateway courses.  AND because I trust educational research done by experts in their fields.  And the research is clear;  There is no place for accelerated math pathways in middle school.

Some common arguments (and my responses) for keeping accelerated pathways are:

  • My child scored advanced on the state assessment/my child is gifted/my child is special.
    • Great!  Let’s keep that going by providing them a strong foundation for future math success.
    • If they love math and want extra opportunities, have them join a math club or explore http://www.brilliant.org (awesomely fun math)!  
  • I want my student to graduate with Honors.
    • Maybe the current honors system is set up to disadvantage the many and needs to undergo change.
    • If the system cannot or will not be changed, I suggest opt in honors – let kids decide if they want to take honors courses and agree to additional or modified requirements.  (This keeps the classrooms diverse and allows students a stake in their educational decisions while still offering the opportunity for honors credit).
  • My child has to take Algebra I in middle school in order to take Calculus in college.
    • Do they?  Do they really?  Have you talked to the colleges that your child (is planning to attend 5-6 years from now) and do they require Calculus?  What must your child demonstrate in order to be placed beyond Calculus in college (MANY students end up having to retake Calculus in college even though they took it in high school).   This is sometimes determined by ACT/SAT score or entrance exam.
    • And also, is Calculus the course your child should take in high school or are they entering a career that would be better supported by Statistics?
    • And also also, there are ways to take Calculus without being accelerated in middle school.  That road is still open to my son (if he chooses that is the course that will set him up for success in college).

If you find yourself wondering if your child should take Calculus in high school, I encourage you to read these articles.

The most common argument for taking Calculus in high school is that students need it to get into great colleges.  I decided to see if that was true, since I had just attended a lecture from Stanford professor, Jo Boaler, who mentioned Stanford does not require it and that colleges would rather have students take Statistics their senior year.  Here is a table I created after looking at the websites of each of these universities and their math requirements:

If you want to learn more about the research from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, check out these articles and books:

(2/21) UPDATE!!! Kate Nowak shared this resource in which IM synthesizes the research above and suggests some additional action steps for districts.

10 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Put My Son in Accelerated Math (Part 2)

  1. Hi, the iReady Math program these diagnostic results are from is a self-paced support program that identifies gaps in knowledge and presents lessons in an individualized “my path” lesson plan to support not supplant teacher instruction. We use this program and growth on these diagnostics is a direct factor of use of the program. Highly motivated kids use it more and show more growth. I would love to see his use report. Also the iReady Math program maxes out at the end of 8th grade. We shift kids then to Khan or IXL.
    My one argument for placing an 8th grader into Algebra (if they are ready) is that it allows for more pathway options in HS by allowing for the student to start in IM-2 (and only need to review and catch up on 1 sem of Geo content) – I am not saying the options have to be Calculus – but agree with Statistics or AP Computer Sci or both With colleges still requiring 4 yrs Math in HS – the more options possible the better – and taking Alg in 8th puts a student one step ahead and allows for options (not just Math, but any STEAM classes) his IM-1 peers wouldn’t have.

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    • Hi David! We don’t use the iReady lessons, we only use the iReady assessment. We use different adaptive programs such as Dreambox, Prodigy, Manga High and Matheletics. My son has not really used any of these this year.
      I completely agree that the goal should be to set students up for success in high school and beyond which is why I do not want him skipping standards. In our accelerated pathway the written curriculum has teachers try to teach a year and a half of standards in one year which usually equates to procedures. The taught curriculum (after talking to MANY MANY of our middle school teachers) is just 7th grade math and ALgebra I so our students are missing almost their entire year of 8th grade math. Once the standards changed, these pathways were not revisited. The standards now set kids up for success in Algebra after engaging in 6-8 math.
      If students take ALgebra I their freshman year, they can still participate in 4 years of math (more if they choose). That could be CS, Statistics, PreCalc, Calc, etc. The goal isn’t to hold kids back – it is to provide opportunities for ALL kids.
      One of the things we have found is that when we remove half of our kids from regular math classes, we do not have the diversity of conversation that is necessary for all of them. This become VERY apparent in Algebra I in high school when it is the kids who have been given the message they are not a math person in MS – a message we portray when deeming some worthy of an advanced pathway and some not.

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  2. This is one parent’s perspective on what is right for his/her child. The sources provided to support the argument provide only a partial picture. Most selective engineering programs will look for prospective HS students to have taken at least Calc AB, if not Calc BC. I’m afraid some parents/HS students might be misguided by this article in thinking its ok to not take calculus in HS. Competition to get into top 30 colleges is so fierce, students need to demonstrate that they have aced rigorous classes in HS, foremost among them advanced math.

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    • Thank you for the comment. If a student doesn’t take accelerated classes in middle school they can still make it to Calculus if that is their desire. I would encourage every student and parent to check with prospective colleges and universities to determine what the requirements are for that particular school. The goal of this article to empower students and parents to make the best decision for their child.

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  3. Catherine,

    Thanks so much for your post. I stumbled upon it while looking for something else entirely on Twitter and it was such a happy accident. I’m excited to see Kate’s research you mentioned as an update. Is there a link to it here on the page that I’m missing?

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  4. I absolutely agree with previous commentator-this article could be so misguiding for other parents. “You still can make it to calculus in HS if you won’t take Accelerated Math in Middle School”-top colleges or any STEM program would indeed require more than just calculus-its calculus AB/BC and or/statistics. And if your child finished 8th grade with 8th grade math, he or she would graduate HS with pre-calculus; having algebra in 8th grade would give them AP calculus AB and only highly accelerated math with geometry would give them AP calculus BC and statistics upon HS graduation. Now regarding “checking math requirements of particular school”-I don’t think most of the kids know what particular college they would apply while they are in 5th grade, but if your child is advanced learner and shooting for the stars-he or she will definitely benefit from the rigorous curriculum.
    Our son took highly accelerated math in middle school, last year he graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Our daughter is in 6th grade highly accelerated math now and happily takes extra weekly classes in local private Math School-she takes algebra and 8th grade geometry. Why extra? Because she tried it and loved it and just have the ability to do it.
    If you are a parent of a fifth grader who is an eager learner, really loves or understand math very well, took the placement test and earned their spot in the highly accelerated math program-fantastic! Its a great start to a bright future I’d say.

    P.S. myth#1 and myth#2 are not myths but hard core truths.

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    • MIT! Congrats to you and your child. It seems like you’ve passed on good genes (nature), and nurtured them well too. All the best.

      Agree with your comment.. if your child is equipped to take on the rigor and challenge, don’t hold back. Growth and learning takes place when faced with challenges, not in ease and comfort. Advanced classes (when appropriate for the child) also open up doors that otherwise would not be available.

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      • Doesn’t every student deserve rigor and challenge and opportunity. Not just those with “good genes” and those “nurtured well?”

        My decision was not about based on holding my son back, it was to allow him the time and opportunity to gain a deep understanding of mathematics in his early years so that he is successful when he chooses to take advanced courses in high school.

        I think there is a misunderstanding that when we label something “accelerated” it automatically provides more rigor. That has not been my experience. I believe that rigor is achieved by the amazing teachers we have leading classrooms – by their skill in crafing questons and building on what students know to move them forward. Great teachers do this everyday – I know because my son has had many of them.

        I agree completely with your comment on challenge and growth – but we may have different definitions of challenge. You might enjoy these articles by Dr. Jo Boaler from Stanford University on the brain science that is changing the way we teach math. If you haven’t visited her site, I encourage you to look around.
        https://www.youcubed.org/resource/brain-science/

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    • It is great that your children had such a strong support system and that they have a love for mathematics! I dream about a world in which all kids have and feel the same!

      I don’t think any school is advocating for eliminating Calculus, it is about shifting the decision point for students and opening up pathways so that all students who want to take upper level math courses such as Calculus in high school are provided a strong foundation in mathematics in order to be successful in those courses. Calculus remains part of those pathways. As you mentioned, which 5th grader knows which career path they want to follow or which school they want to attend after high school? Detracking math courses would mean keeping a common track through their sophomore year and then offering a decision point for students based on their desired career path their junior year (the year they likely will begin applying to colleges). All students who are interested in taking Calculus or Statistics or other AP courses should have the opportunity to do so. In a system that bases high school pathways on an accelerated middle school math pathway, that is not the case. This post was to help others understand some of the issues associated with acceleration and that they can advocate for a system that supports all students in their math journeys!

      There is an opportunity here to open up math for ALL students, not just the few who have been identified as “above grade level” or whose family has the means to push them into that pathway.

      This is about the empowerment of all students by allowing them the opportunity to make choices for their own education when they reach the point in their school careers when they need to decide.

      There are many districts who have followed the recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to detrack their math courses and have shown amazing results via an increase in student grades, performance on standardized tests, a drop in the number of D’s and F’s and an increased number of underprivileged groups taking (and succeeding in) upper level math courses. San Francisco Unified School District is one of these. Here are some slides from one of the many presentations I have attended by schools who have made this shift. https://docs.google.com/document/d/17IL9Bzl-Utf_25i4U1TNh9wrnLTOxo2isIQyOVOsQGI/edit?usp=sharing

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  5. There is such a fine line between appropriate acceleration and tracking. Some may not realize the equity and access issue that must be considered. I hope your post will at least provoke some thoughts on this critical matter. Thanks!

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