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D65 wary of course-skipping in math

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Parents of bright math students in the Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools have been pressing the new administration for better pathways to acceleration for their kids, but administrators are not sure that skipping a course is the right way to do it.

Jesch Reyes, one of Superintendent Paul Goren’s first hires when he came aboard last summer, presented an update of their latest thinking on the subject at a recent School Board meeting, but was faced with some skepticism on the part of some board members.

For next year, at least, students who meet certain minimum requirements will be able to skip a year, but the data on course-skipping is far from conclusive about whether students will suffer from missing some of the content in the course they skipped.

This is particularly critical in that students are now expected to meet the criteria of the Common Core State Standards of Mathematics.

The new measurements that come with the Common Core process put a premium on ensuring that students not only have command of the course they skipped to, but also of the course they skipped over.

An analysis of the data indicates that “many students would have been better served if they did not skip a math course,” Reyes wrote in a memo to Goren and the board.

Reyes, director of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education for the district, met with a group of math-concerned parents last July on his first day on the job. The parents had organized themselves on the internet under the banner, Math Matters.

Their leader and founder, Jennifer Phillips, subsequently won a spot on the board in the spring elections, and has been pressing for improvements in the math course sequence.

After meeting with parents and math teachers all school year, Reyes is recommending that course-skipping be continued next year for those students who meet the criteria, but that in future years the district develop “compacted” courses that would, in effect, concentrate two years of math into a one-year course.

“This will ensure that students will learn the most important topics and will more readily access advanced mathematics learning without having content gaps,” Reyes said.

Therefore, he added, “the 2015-16 school year will be the final year of acceleration as course-skipping.”

When pressed on the subject by the board, however, he admitted that in some special circumstances, a student might still be allowed to skip a course, even in later years.

While the board was focused on data, such as test scores, Phillips suggested that an equally meaningful piece of data would be a survey of students who have skipped a course to determine if they felt it was helpful to them.

Goren said he thought that was a good idea.

Charles Bartling

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 stations and business-oriented magazines.

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