SMMUSD HDQTRS — A proposed shift in the progression of math classes at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District could eliminate the highest level course taught in the district, which some parents feel put students at a disadvantage when applying to top-tier universities.
The class, Calculus DE, focuses on multivariate calculus, a class not often taught until students go to college. To take it in high school, a student must have taken algebra in seventh grade, a year earlier than normal.
The class is currently only offered at Malibu High School, although students from Santa Monica High School use distance-learning technology to teleconference in during sixth period for the advanced course.
That may no longer be an option under the new “common core” standards, a set of expectations adopted by states across the country that emphasize a new style of learning that values critical thinking over rote memorization and application of concepts to real-world situations.
Common core standards were adopted by the California Department of Education in 2010, and students will be tested on them as early as the 2014-15 school year, leading educators across the state to begin brainstorming how to change classes to make sure their students can pass the exams.
That means beefing up existing math classes by adding a wider breadth of mathematical concepts for what educators hope will be a deeper learning experience, but could create a system in which algebra is only taught in eighth or ninth grade.
That raised a red flag for Mindy Peterson, who has a junior at Malibu High School planning to take Calculus DE her senior year.
The class will not only prepare her for challenging coursework as a freshman in college — she’s got her eye on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — it helped her compete against students from private schools in the vicinity, Peterson said.
“It would be a shame to put an end to this program just to conform to the new common core sequence,” Peterson said.
While it’s not the goal to eliminate classes for high achievers, districts across the state are struggling to get curriculum lined up so that students will be ready to take the new standardized tests that will come online in just two years.
Those new standards have created a fundamental shift in not only what is taught, but how it’s taught, and may present challenges if students try to take the algebra course in seventh grade and geometry in eighth, said Rosa Serratore, math coordinator with the district.
“It’s not your mother’s or father’s algebra,” Serratore said.
Furthermore, even schools like MIT don’t require multivariate calculus for entry, instead asking for Calculus BC, the highest class offered by most high schools and one for which an Advanced Placement exam exists so that students can get college credit for taking it in high school.
Board members seemed hesitant to sign off on any future plan that would limit access to higher mathematics, but at the same time expressed a willingness to wait and see where the ultimate adoption of classes to meet common core standards led.
While giving the most talented students extra opportunity is always a plus, it cannot be the only consideration, said Boardmember Jose Escarce.
“Whether we continue to do that or not needs to be weighed against whether or not it’s good for students in the context of a new set of standards,” he said. “I have no way of knowing that.”
Calculus DE will still be offered in the district next year, even as teachers throughout SMMUSD make the transition to the new core curriculum, and officials will be looking at ways to include it if there is demand.
The problem is not unique to SMMUSD, Serratore said.
“Other districts in California have been looking at what to offer our advanced mathematics students. Their numbers have been growing since there are a number of students taking algebra in the seventh grade,” Serratore said. “What this will look like under the new common core algebra standards is the variable under review.”