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Board members doubt whether math plan adds up

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Some Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board members Wednesday night said they want to see more data before supporting a staff plan to change how math is taught in middle schools.

District 65 Math Coordinator Suzanne Farrand.

Some Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board members Wednesday night said they want to see more data before supporting a staff plan to change how math is taught in middle schools.

The staff proposal, presented by Suzanne Farrand, the district's math coordinator, at Wednesday's board policy committee meeting, calls for reducing the number of students who skip a grade of math at the 6th grade level or earlier to be "accelerated" into more advanced classes.

It also recommends that all students take the same algebra course in either 7th or 8th grade, with those who complete it in 7th grade moving on to take geometry in 8th grade.

The district now offers two algebra courses, Algebra 1 for the more advanced students and Algebra 8 for those who haven't been accelerated.

The effect of the change would be to have the more advanced students skip what is now taught as 7th grade math.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said, "I would like to see more data, this is really a philosophical shift."

School board member Tracy Quattrocki.

Quattrocki suggested the full board should discuss the issue "sooner rather than later."

Board member Richard Rykhus said he thought the plan to reduce the number of kids who skip ahead to more advance math classes at younger ages "might be a solution in search of a problem."

"I haven't heard what the problem is that that's addressing," Rykhus added.

Farrand said the current practice of having two different algebra classes results in disparities by race — with disproportionately more white students in the more advanced Algebra 1 class.

She said students placed in Algebra 1 test at the 80th percentile or above on standardized math tests. Algebra 8 students test lower than that, "but the majority are above the 50th percentile."

And she argued that teachers have been able to raise performance levels for all the students.

Teachers at Evanston Township High School, Farrand added, "say our kids are coming better prepared for geometry all the time."

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, "We are making progress, but I admit we still have work to do."

"We can't say we're doing really, really well with all our kids, but there are kids in all categories who are doing very well."

But in response to a question from board member Eileen Budde the staff said half of the students who take Algebra 8 have to enroll in the beginning algebra class at ETHS, rather starting high school by studying geometry.

Board member Jerome Summers.

While some board members suggested the district should provide more opportunities for parents to seek to have their children moved into more advanced math classes, board member Jerome Summers disagreed.

"A lot of parents are notorious for thinking their kids are way more advanced than they actually are," Summers said.

Related document

'Math acceleration' plan (.pdf)

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