Stephanie Furlong’s oldest son, a 10th-grader at Santa Monica High School, took an accelerated math track in middle school. Her next child, an eighth-grader at John Adams Middle School, has taken the honors pathway. But as her fifth-grade daughter prepares for middle school, Furlong is worried about the options that will be available for the rest of her secondary education.

The Santa Monica-Malibu school district has eliminated sixth-grade honors math classes, and Furlong and other parents believe students are being forced to choose long-term academic pathways that are either far too challenging, not rigorous enough or too dependent on summer studies.

“I don’t think the parents are being snobs,” Furlong said. “They’re not asking for anything other than the school district to do what’s in the best interest of students.”

The changes in math education come as the district alters curricula to meet Common Core standards. Similar adjustments have been taking place throughout the state and country.

Spearheaded by Carrie Davies, Nikki Kolhoff and Eden Kusmiersky, a group of parents is lobbying the district for tweaks within the Common Core system that they say have been successfully implemented in other districts in California.

The local school district’s new standard pathway includes three years of middle school math in preparation for a year each of Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II and pre-calculus in high school. (University of California and California State University campuses require the first three years of high school math and strongly encourage a fourth.) Standard eighth-grade math now includes material that was previously included in high school algebra.

Although the Common Core structure doesn’t include accelerated math before high school, “the SMMUSD wanted to maintain acceleration options for the district’s highest achievers, who have been completing geometry by eighth grade,” district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said.

“SMMUSD continues to offer opportunities for high achieving students to accelerate in math to ensure the best fit for their needs,” she said. “Through parent workshops and information going home we hope to help parents understand that while the description of ‘honors’ will no longer be used, we are providing more rigorous and relevant courses for students, including those who are highly gifted in math. These students will still have the opportunity to reach the highest levels of math offered in high school.”

A moderately accelerated pathway covers seventh- and eighth-grade math in seventh grade, allowing students to take Algebra I in eighth grade. These students are eligible to take geometry as freshmen, Algebra II as sophomores, pre-calculus as juniors and calculus as seniors.

The district’s rapid acceleration track has students completing both Core 7 and Core 8 math in sixth grade, Algebra I in seventh grade and geometry in eighth. Their high school math can consist of Algebra II, pre-calculus and calculus as well as either advanced calculus or statistics.

Placement in the advanced tracks will be based on review of fifth-grade math grades and work habits, sixth-grade math readiness test results and standardized test scores, Pinsker said. Students can also jump ahead after middle school by taking geometry in the summer after eighth or ninth grade. Honors courses in geometry and Algebra II remain available at the high school level.

“The acceleration options are very fluid and flexible, providing all students, regardless of which course they take at the start of middle school, with the opportunity to take the most demanding Advanced Placement and honors math courses offered in the district,” Pinsker said.

Furlong and other parents, though, remain concerned about how Common Core standards will impact their children’s education.
They believe some students will not be prepared to take the SAT or ACT because many won’t take pre-calculus — which is included in the tests — until senior year.

“With the district’s new (standard) pathway, students are not going to finish Algebra II until the end of junior year,” she said, “and they will be applying to college before they have finished all the math on their college entry exams. How is this reasonable?”

They’re also worried about how the math options will impact science education. For example, Furlong said, many students won’t be able take chemistry until they are enrolled in Algebra II as juniors.

“Those who are not ready or given the option of acceleration will stall out their sophomore year,” she said. “There will be no appropriate level of science for them. … In an increasingly STEM world, why would we artificially limit the rigor of our students’ appropriate math and science education?”

Scores of parents have signed a proposal to allow students outside of the rapid acceleration track to move ahead slightly in math in sixth grade, and they have repeatedly called for district review in recent weeks. The matter is not currently on the school board’s April 16 agenda.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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