Mathematics teachers at the Evanston/Skokie District 65 middle schools have presented a plan to the Board of Education that they hope will avoid turning off some middle school students from achieving success in math because of their initial placement in algebra class.

Currently, the three middle schools—Haven, Chute, and Nichols– each have two algebra classes, and eight graders are placed in the one that matches their performance on standardized math exams as well as their grades in Seventh Grade math.  The top students are in Algebra 1, while the math strugglers are in Algebra 8.

At the two magnet schools, on the other hand , there is only one algebra class, which is called Algebra Pilot.

Major national research studies indicate that students perform just as well in the untracked environment, like they have at the magnet schools, the teachers contend, as they do in the tracked classes like District 65 provides in the regular middle schools.

A committee of teachers, who call themselves “Algebra for All,” have been meeting and analyzing test scores to determine what is best for District 65.

At last week’s board meeting, a group of them met for a discussion with the board on a plan to put all the middle schools, including the middle-school grades of the two magnet schools, on the same system.

The group spoke negatively about tracking the students in algebra because students in Algebra 8 tended to feel they were just not meant to be good at math, and this expectation tended to have far-reaching unintended consequences, not only in math but in other subjects as well.

So the teachers are asking the board to put all the Eighth Grade algebra students in one class, and then to supplement that with an additional support class—they want to call it “Algebra Excite”– where the struggling students are given extra help, designed to get them to think positively about their academic potential in math.

They realize that there are only so many hours in the academic day, so they are suggesting that any students in the Excite class delay taking a foreign language until they get to high school so that they will have time during the school day to take the support class.

The teachers are recommending that the district begin with one of the three middle schools this coming school year. Then if all goes well, they would expand it to all three in the 2018-2019 school year.

Once in place, they want it to stay in place for five years so that data can be accumulated about the long-term effects for the students involved, such as their experience at Evanston Township High School and beyond.

The board is geared up to take action on the plan at the regular board meeting tonight.

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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