News

Gunn High School algebra pilot shows mixed results

District reflects on combined Algebra 1A course

Almost three years ago, the Palo Alto school board voted to pilot a combined algebra class at Gunn High School that would merge Algebra 1 and Algebra 1A.

The goal was to expose all students to rigorous curriculum that would better prepare them to take higher-level math courses, rather than setting them on separate academic tracks that often separated along racial and socio-economic lines. The district hoped this would particularly benefit low-income, minority and special education students who trailed their peers in math achievement.

"If we see ... marked differences in the racial characteristics of students in those classes, a kind of pedagogical common sense turns into a real moral, ethical and even legal imperative not to do that," board member Ken Dauber said in 2016. "That is just not an acceptable state."

A district report included in this week's school board agenda indicates the pilot has not yet had much of the desired impact. Overall, the grade distribution from the first pilot year in 2015-16 to the 2017-18 school year has remained relatively steady and on average, low-income, minority and special-education students continue to get lower grades in algebra than their peers, according to the report.

Grades have gone up, however, for the few low-income and minority students, designated as "historically underrepresented" or HUR, enrolled in the course. While only 8 percent of these students (just four students) received an A in Algebra 1 and 1A in 2015-16, 14 percent received an A the next year and 21 percent last year. Every year, the grade received by the highest percentage of historically underrepresented students was a C.

Special-education students' grades also improved from the first to second year of the pilot course. In 2017-18, seven special-education students received A's, seven received B's, eight received C's in 2017-18 and six received F's, according to the report.

When the pilot course was approved in 2016, Gunn math staff hoped that students who took the mixed class could then enroll in Geometry A over the summer and be on track to take calculus by 11th grade. The Algebra 1A pilot was also launched in the context of a schoolwide goal to increase Latino and African American students' enrollment in Advanced Placement and honors classes by 30 percent.

According to the district, the pathway students have taken after Algebra 1A has varied. Most of the 41 students who received A's in the class, 73 percent, chose to stay in the "accelerated" pathway and enrolled in Geometry A. A smaller percentage, 12 percent, opted for a more accelerated calculus pathway by taking Algebra 2/Trigonometry A. The same percentage of students "down laned" by enrolling in college-preparatory geometry, according to the report.

In the first cohort of the pilot course, only one student "up laned" into Algebra 2/Trigonometry Honors by taking geometry in summer school.

Critics of the pilot feared that it would dilute instruction to the detriment of higher-achieving students. (There was similar resistance to a teacher proposal to merge two levels of freshman English at Palo Alto High School in 2014.) According to the report, this did occur the first semester of the Algebra 1A class at Gunn. Both teachers and students "expressed the challenge of differentiation within the wide range of students in their algebra classes, and teachers and students both expressed concern that the highest-achieving students were not being challenged."

Several students reported in focus groups that because the class was "easy," they were thinking about taking Geometry A over the summer and "up-laning" into Algebra 2/Trigonometry A the next year.

Teachers adjusted after meeting with a middle school math instructional leader to learn and implement differentiation practices, visiting other local algebra classes and receiving additional training.

Rolling out the class was also a "major undertaking" that first year with a team of three new teachers, including one who was new to teaching algebra altogether, according to the report.

By year two of the pilot, the teachers said they felt they had "mitigated" challenges around differentiation and student support through professional learning, team planning and support from Gunn and the district. They were revising the final exam to better match with the new course and experimenting with standards-based grading, which measures student achievement by specific learning targets rather than grades.

Gunn is continuing to track the first and second cohorts of Algebra 1A students.

The district did not immediately provide current enrollment numbers for the class.

The data report is dated March 2018 but hasn't before been publicly presented, according to Superintendent Don Austin. It appears on the board's Tuesday agenda as an informational report, meaning no discussion is required.

In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on whether to identify funds to support a county-led workforce housing project at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto. The project would serve regional teachers and staff from school districts who contributed financially. Staff are also recommending that the district survey employees on staff housing in general.

The board will also discuss several policy revisions and new course proposals for the next school year. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.

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Comments

30 people like this
Posted by Independent learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 10:04 am

I do wish there would be more soul searching about whether we are trying to create a system of standardized measurement of people, or if we are trying to help young people learn math and become lifelong learners. There is an analog to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in education: the more you try to measure the student for the benefit of the observer, the more you interfere with the student's learning trajectory.

Why is this about grade improvement anyway? That's only productive if the educational program is working well to begin with. Daphne Kohler at Stanford has shown you can eliminate the bell curve by teaching to mastery. Individualizing students' math education is just not that difficult today.

There is a huge disconnect between math at elementary and middle school levels. The problems, in my experience, start with uneven and unfair practices in kindergarten and first grade. In an attempt to standardize things, some teachers actually discourage many kids' natural affinity for math, but not all do. As time passes, the school program only amplifies early disadvantages and supports those with early advantages, including "redshirting" (the practice of holding kids back to start older and at a developmental advantage) which was pretty rampant among the now high-school crowd when they were younger.

A lot of these problems go away if you individualize/customize math education. Students have a chance to overcome past disadvantages, to learn at their own pace whether faster or slower, and to use scoring as a way to shore up knowledge rather than feeling constantly judged. The grade should be a destination, not a gauntlet.

There are many voices today, such as Neil de Grasse Tyson, who say that any grade less than an A represent the failure of teaching and school, not the student. Sal Khan uses a house-building analogy: why go to the trouble of identifying problems, only to move on according to a schedule to the next stage of building without fixing the problems? Customized/individualized learning solves those problems, and the tools have never been better to do this. Why are we sticking with old pedagogy?

Students focused on getting the grade don't learn as much, don't retain as much, don't derive the same joy from learning (to become lifelong learners), and they develop highly negative learning habits such as being averse to making, identifying, and learning from mistakes.

Giving kids the chance to learn at their own pace, and to mastery, also improves the affinity for math. When students can learn in whatever way best allows them to succeed, the confidence helps them in future learning. Undoing the damage of the negative learning practices, even if students begin a customized program tomorrow, can take years, though.

I think this district suffers in a whole host of ways from being education control freaks. The last thing they can imagine doing is figuring out how to allow every child to be a master of their own learning and time, because it would mean affording families a level of respect and dignity that would require a whole different paradigm of existence.

I really, really resent reading that the kids are guinea pigs for another standardized approach, the way they were with Everyday Math. The school district should make an independent learning path available for anyone who chooses it. Let those who would endeavor to deserve it have a chance to focus on learning and be free of the relentless judging gauntlet. High school should be a chance to get a broad education and learn how to learn.

There aren't many studies of homeschooler test scores, but the largest to date showed that there is no achievement or gender gap, even when the parents aren't well educated themselves. The moral of the story is not that everyone should homeschool, but that schools should think about customizing education, too -- which is now eminently possible because of technology.



13 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 12:36 pm

One of the biggest take-aways I got from being a parent is that the schools can't please everyone. It seemed that every 10th parent had their own unique view on how schools should educate: Technology, no technology, computation-based math, conceptual problem-solving math without a computation emphasis, textbook, no textbook, tests, no tests....
Many, if not most parents don't want their young children using devices. They prefer the whole group-small group approach which builds a strong conceptual foundation while promoting sharing of mathematical approaches and differentiation. Many young children dislike being attached to a device (regardless of the app/program) and would prefer the adult-child or child-child interaction. Homeschooling is an excellent option for parents who want to design their own program. My kids' schools did not swing with political trends, parental trends, or the current educational fad. They looked at both short and longterm progress and goals, and used educational methods and tools that were research-based and showed their efficacy. By the way, Everyday Mathematics was developed years ago by the University of Chicago, which puts out some of the very best educational tools that exist. It may have it's problems, as does any math program (which is why the teacher is there), but for my children, it build such an incredible problem-solving skills, mental math, and mathematical flexibility. My children were young when they used the program, and I only wish it had continued while they were in elementary school. Regardless, their teachers did a great job and I'm so grateful for the education my children received. As the years go by and my children get older, I'm increasingly grateful to these hard-working, unsung heroes.


15 people like this
Posted by To What End?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2019 at 12:43 pm

To What End? is a registered user.

How can a school system, already known for high stress, think it's necessary to get nearly all students into Calculus in 11th grade? Even then, only after taking a summer school class. What is wrong with Calculus as a senior? Or, heaven forbid, not taking Calculus in high school?

The Paly math department already thinks they are God's gift to math. The math department doesn't offer weighted grades if you take an AP class off-campus (at Lydian, Fusion, or even Foothill). So, a Paly student can actually take a college Calculus class, and not get a weighted grade. But, if that same student took Calc AB at Paly (only one semester worth of Calc), they'd receive a weighted grade.

My kids have had math teachers as sophomores that told the class that they make the work intentionally difficult to get them ready for AP Calc, even though many of those students won't take that class.

Outside of STEM majors, most colleges don't even require Calculus, you can fulfill your math with Statistics.


4 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2019 at 1:12 pm

kids is a registered user.

So, put low income kids and keep them at a lower level and keep the expectation low to just algebra while others get an honors type course. Ignore the fact that the kids in the higher lane at the same class offering have help at home and money for tutors. Do not help them after school. Act surprised that they did not do as well.

Their achievement reflects the teaching and expectations for them exactly. The others that "laned up" reflect the higher expectations and help from the outside. How is putting kids in a class and expecting less of them helping them. maybe I just do not understand. I also do not understand why so few girls are in the top math classes and why there is no support for girls. This district is so far behind in math education. The parents and tutors have been teaching the kids. In looking at which kids end up in the top math classes as freshmen, almost all of them came from outside the district or had other math programs. If you depend on pausd to teach your kids math and do nothing else, your kids will go deep, but not in a good way. All along the way, there are low expectations and that is the problem and the cause of the achievement gap and having parents that pick up and teach their kids makes it seem real. It is not real. All kids should be able to have the same education and be on the same playing field not just kids with tutors who get laned early. Putting them in a divided class just seems mean.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 1:23 pm

What I get from this is that the probability of low income, minority and special ed students are not getting extra tutoring for financial or whatever reasons while the others are quite possibly getting extra tutoring from paid tutors or tutoring services.

Nothing too surprising here. There has always been a large number of Palo Alto students getting extra tutoring paid for by parents who want them to do better at math, whether it being after school or summer camp. The stigma of getting a poor math grade makes it automatic that a family with the means will pay to get the grade improved. A family that doesn't have the means will let the poor grade continue as there is no real alternative to letting the school do the teaching.

Wake up.


11 people like this
Posted by Independent learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 1:26 pm

@concerned,

You have just pointed out how different the needs are for different students and families, and in the same breath say the schools can’t address differences, as if that’s somehow just too complicated. Not only is that wrong, other schools (not just homeschooling) are proving you wrong. In a public program every child deserves to have as positive an experience as yours did, and as you rightly point out, there are learning differences — that is a fact of life — the program should adapt to that reality rather than basically being designed to always fail a large segment of students.

I do not know if you intended to come across as so defeatist and passive aggressive, but customizing education is not a “fad” nor does it have to involve “trends” or non “research-based” programs. There is no implied dismissal of teachers, either, only of rigid one-size-fits-all mindsets.

My child customized high school math through a public school program. The teacher, experienced in independent study, allowed the kids to choose from among several evidence-based, already vetted and used curricula, and then work through them self-paced. If one didn’t fit the child’s learning style, another could be chosen. If none of the existing curricula worked, then the hunt for well-established other resources (of which there are many) was allowed, although in our case, not necessary. If a test showed a child needed more work, then the child did more work and then retested on the material. There is absolutely no reason every child has to work through the same exact curriculum at the same speed, and be judged for it at every step and given no chance to show mastery. Just allowing for self-directed learning allowed my child to considerably accelerate in math, get more depth and breadth, and be more confident and successful. The CONSIDERABLY higher standardized test scores that resulted were an unplanned side effect.

By the way, that can be done with homeschooling or in brick and mortar school. Homeschoolers don’t usually make up things from scratch either, or go with “fads”, they usually go with established tools, they just get to customize them to a child’s learning style or needs, including to accelerate or slow as needed.

Everyday Math is a good case in point. It worked well for your children, for mine, it demonstrably set things back behind where they were before the program began. In contrast to how it taught your children flexibility, it taught mine (wrongly) that there is no consistency, no framework you can build on in math, that the answer to the same problem can change based on the method used. It absolutely destroyed my child’s innate love of math at that age. The wordy pedagogy and lack of math practice (not to be confused with word problems) couldn’t have been designed better to make someone with the same learning differences fail, when a different program allowed the same child to catch up and do calculus AB and BC at an honors level first semester of 10th grade (both). If the same child had stayed in the local school, it’s doubtful calculus would have been possible at all. (By the way, mine also hates using devices for math and does markedly less well on computerized tests - so chose to do everything text-book based. The point is, there was a low-drama, child-driven choice, rather than forcing one way and then assuming failure was the child’s fault, as we experienced here.)

Our local teacher who implemented Everyday Math was one of the best we had in the district (or ever) and she basically said she had to throw away a collection of math teaching materials she had curated over 30 years, including from teaching gifted children and much public school experience, and was highly frustrated by being told to only use EDM.

Why are you so threatened by the idea that other students could have as good an education and outcome as yours did? Why would you feel you have to disparage the idea that the hard-working teachers of this district could be capable of customizing math education? Especially since, in a customized situation, your children could still use EDM if that was deemed — by the education professional working with them and the child — to be the best fit? Are you just threatened by the idea that other children you think are beneath yours could succeed just as well?


30 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2019 at 3:35 pm

One of the great flaws in our public education system is that it forces most students along a similar path of achievement despite differences in interest, intelligence and capabilities.

During college, I had a coworker who struggled with his grades. He was a first-generation Hispanic student who was fairly average in high school. In college, he decided to major in an engineering field. Yet, he couldn't pass his math, science or engineering classes (all involving math).

We both had student jobs in the same department. One afternoon, we all took I.Q. tests from the school's psychology department. Whereas most of us were varying degrees above average, this student scored in the mid-80s.

Several of us tried to talk him into changing his major (at least temporarily) until he could bring up his grades and achieve satisfactory academic progress. He refused. He wanted to "prove" to others that he could "do it."

After failing to bring up his grades following a third academic progress waiver, he dropped out of school.

I asked some friends about him recently. He's working in a trade and doing well (although he has quite a bit of student loan debt). I just wish that he would have considered alternatives to his major or career. He equated "success" only with a degree in a particular field -- something that was largely outside of his intellectual capabilities.

Schools should not hold all students to the same types of career or educational road maps. My friend was capable of success -- just not the type of success that the high school was focused upon.

Palo Alto is blessed to be a bastion of intelligence and academic success. However, this doesn't mean that ALL of those students should be held to the same academic standards. Given the pool of students in this area, most wouldn't have a problem with such classes. However, some might feel the pressure of taking classes that might just be outside of their range.

Schools should exist to not lump students all together. There should always be a standard for graduation. However, average and, yes, below average intellects shouldn't be required to progress on that same academic or career road map.


12 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 29, 2019 at 3:36 pm

It's not surprising that putting Alg 1 and 1A students in the same room doesn't do very much and may have negative consequences. Every child learns differently, has different developmental histories, different capabilities, different parental expectations, different peer expectations, and different goals. Maybe some (or most or all) of the grade differential between HUR students and the others has to do with that, and less to do with the classroom. That said, it may be emotionally difficult for many to be surrounded by high achieving students with lots of resources. While it may be inspiring for some it must be demoralizing for others.


6 people like this
Posted by Why So Many Fail
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 29, 2019 at 6:18 pm

[Post removed.]





6 people like this
Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2019 at 6:52 pm

What is making this worse is that due to change in placement policies many students that otherwise would be in 9th grade Geometry next year will instead find themselves repeating Algebra1 in 9th grade.

The district is starting to require a "B" to access 9th grade Geometry (essentially defining a "C+" in 8th grade Algebra as a "fail").

Because so many stronger students will now be forced to repeat Algebra, the merge will create a situation similar to 6th grade of placing a large range of abilities at level in the same course. Creating again a course that is not effective to most of its students. Those that actually need to learn Algebra (no middle school Algebra) or have a slower natural learning pace will be placed with students that already know most of the curriculum.


1 person likes this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 29, 2019 at 7:19 pm

To Green and Paly parent: What are you talking about re: repeating Algebra if you have less than a B? That is just plain not true.


2 people like this
Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 29, 2019 at 7:29 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

Here is what the school sent to 8A students at JLS (or at least to us):

Course Selection for 9th grade: Students who earn a B- or better in Algebra will be eligible for Geometry in 9th grade. Information about how to choose which course and the expectations for the courses will be given to students in the last week of January. High school counsellors will visit JLS in the first week of February to provide registration information. Students who earn a "C" grade in Algebra can either register and take the summer school course (Bridge to Geometry A) or repeat Algebra in 9th grade. Students who take the summer school course must earn a B- or better in the summer school course to continue to Geometry in the Fall. Students earning a D or F in Algebra will repeat Algebra in 9th grade.


6 people like this
Posted by What does being Chinese got to do with it?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2019 at 7:57 pm

[Portion removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

In all, be careful of how you phrase your observations about the children in our community. They're battling not only outside forces, but things inside them that may shout at them, "You can't do this! You'll never amount to anything your parents want you to be! You can forget about going to college - you're useless!" Those are thoughts they may battle every day.


2 people like this
Posted by Why So Many Fail
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 29, 2019 at 8:13 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]



12 people like this
Posted by Independent learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 10:59 pm

@Nayeli,
I do agree with you that education at this level should be broader and not so single track. I also wish there was better information and more respect for trades. (If you listen to Temple Grandin speak these days, that's one of her big peeves, the lack of support for people who want to go into the trades, and consequently, a big lack of skilled tradespeople.). But I think that kind of broad approach has to start early. It's a societal shift. My plumber makes a great living (more than we do), and is frankly a pretty smart guy. But at the end of the day, it's a hard job that people don't aspire to do from the getgo. (Which is too bad, because innovations in plumbing are a potential goldmine -- and people with the experience and problems to solve in the field are the innovators.)

That said, it's really important not to pigeonhole people. I went to one of the top and most selective universities in the country and one of the smartest people I knew (physicist, great student) told me he had never done well on an IQ test (he was below 100). He was told by his father his whole life that he was stupid and would never be able to do anything of worth. Talk about pulling up by one's own boot straps. Yet he was one of those students who was able to help others even outside his field. Another one of the smartest and most grounded people I have ever known was there after quitting in the middle of his undergrad years and spending 10 years as a carpenter in construction. He came back to get his engineering degree because he was ready, but he wasn't sorry for the years he spent in construction.

I also think that different people have different gifts (including for trades, which are an important part of our economy), and it's just tragic that the person you mentioned didn't have the opportunity of a broad education in order to find those gifts in a more positive way. But I think unfortunately our society is becoming more and more stratified by class again, and there is an aspect of people not wanting to be trapped in a certain class if they can avoid it, and the schools do not help.

I agree with you that everyone should not be tracked to go to college. In places like Switzerland, the training for things like trades is quite extensive, and consequently, their construction is way higher quality than ours. But they also have a much higher minimum salary.


2 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2019 at 8:18 am

kids is a registered user.

Were there two teachers in the class with two different levels and apparently two different population groups? If not, then who did the teacher spend time with each day. Was work just assigned and they all tried to do it without help? Each lecture per topic would have to be cut in half. Not sure how that helped kids that were advanced in math and those that were struggling. Were they trying to stop progress at the upper end and speed up the lower to bring them all closer? Too much is dependent on the skill of the teacher and to run a class like this takes training and research and support. I would commend a teacher for getting a class like this all to 70 percent. This is a hard task for the best teacher. Often, the top kids are left alone with the thinking that they cant teach themselves and do not need instruction . This works in pausd because parents or tutors teach them at home. Every math class my kids have ever taken at Paly have the teacher at a desk showing a power point, doing a few example problems and then sitting back down while the kids do the work. At outside higher quality math classes, the teacher actually walks around and looks at worked solutions and knows each student. This would be so difficult in a class that had two distinct levels. Paly parents do not know this, but they are truly homeschooling parents and actually have to work harder because they have to follow another persons curriculum.

Also the notion that some kids will learn more with watered down curriculum is poor reasoning and the cause of low achievement. MIssing information and attempting easy problems does not put a kid forward. Kids that are financially and educationally supported are put through the ringer with the Paly math. If they could just follow one publisher and knock of their silly web and chain, students could help each other and have time to go forward or back. The math teachers at Paly still get chuffed up and excited when smart kids have difficulty.

I would recommend taking as many math classes elsewhere. Foothill College has Algebra, Business math with tutors and a clear curriculum without tricks or rigor and is free for any high schooler minus the books. West Valley has a very good summer program with math at all levels that lead up to one another nicely. UC scout is fair but online.BYU is UC approved and self paced so kids can go forward or backward. It is online, but there is a live teacher to contact whenever help is needed. These 3 are UC approved and you can place them on your UC college applications as stand alone transcripts. Take a prep and do the online math in a fun relaxed way. Seems hard, but would be worth it to avoid fake rigor. This bunch makes math difficult for its top kids who full support at home or with tutors. Is it surprising at all that this type of math class does not prepare every child


11 people like this
Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2019 at 8:34 am

The pilot of merging Algebra1A and Algebra1 has two very significant issues:

First, it was done before the recent change this year that would force all students that successfully completed 8th grade Algebra1 with a C+ to repeat the course in their 9th grade. This is happening next year and I expect it to significantly increase Algebra1 9th grade enrollment with many students that are much stronger. This will completely change the consistency of these classes.

Second, the only data that they seemed to have used are grades in the course. This is very highly biased data. First it can not be compared with middle school Algerba1 grades (where the student cohort is much stronger). Second it can change between years and teachers. What should be used to evaluate effectiveness are highly standardized and normed third party assessments. For example, MDTP or the NWEA MAP test. The district already uses these tools: MDTP to place students coming from outside the district and NWEA MAP as a pilot. But for some curious reason they chose instead to use this highly biased data for the Algebra1A/Algebra1 pilot. This is very poor scientific methodology.

More on the change of policy that defines "C = FAIL" for Algebra 8th students.

This is bordering being unlawful by SB359 (math placement act).

Second, parents please note that your students are being tripped here. Your students that might "fail" would otherwise (same demographic) do very well did they have a balanced pathway (similar to Saratoga or Sunnyvale). Our pathway is highly imbalanced: ineffective slow 6th grade and a large amount of new material introduced in the last second semester of Algebra8, where it is the FIRST time kids factor binomials and solve and analyze quadratics). MANY students start struggling for the first time in second semester of Algebra8. Also our Algebra8 class sizes are very large compared with other core classes. Students that can not afford tutors (or their parents are misled to believe that they should not support them) can very easily fail (get a C) even if they are highly capable to finish middle school ready for high school Geometry.


10 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 30, 2019 at 9:42 am

Where are the standardized test results of math assessments for these students ---- to actually see if they are learning the material? PAUSD's grades are not necessarily indicative, given that grade inflation is a concern within the district, and grades are not standardized across teachers.

If we really want to know and ensure that our students, and particularly these vulnerable students this article discusses, are being properly placed in math, and are making progress towards mastering math curricula, reveal the aggregate results of the normalized math assessments that the state requires for math placement decisions, broken down by race and socio economic factors, just as was done for this report to the board. (EDC 51224.7)

Then let's see how our district and its students are performing --- and what may need to be done.


7 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 30, 2019 at 9:58 am

Green Acres parent is a registered user.

The board members who voted to leave decisions about curricula to the professionals are derelict in their duty as board members. It's their job. If they feel unqualified, they shouldn't have run for election in the first place.


2 people like this
Posted by more to the story
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2019 at 12:06 pm

Weekly,

I would not characterize a doubling of Ds and Fs in Gunn's Algebra 1 pilot as "remain[ing] relatively steady."

Nor would I report the HUR and disabled student passing rates as having "gone up" and "improved" without adding that the sample size is so small that it renders those percentages statistically insignificant.

Increase in # of disabled students earning As in the pilot's first year = 0.

Increase in # of HUR students earning As = 2.


4 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2019 at 12:31 pm

kids is a registered user.



The secret to a good math program is high expectations starting in Kindergarten and adults not sitting and watching kids fail while they collect data.


12 people like this
Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2019 at 10:36 pm

You wonder why many of the black students in the district are choosing the private school route for middle and high school and are excelling. The math experience in PAUSD is inflated. Kids are tutoring up and those who can’t afford to have a tutor on speed dial are being neglected by teachers as the class moves on. Thank you very much PAUSD, but I will keep my historical unrepresented daughter at Castilleja, where she has developed a passion for math and is loving every minute of it.


3 people like this
Posted by FutureJobs
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2019 at 10:55 pm

Instead of exercising social engineering with our kids, I suggests that the educators consider what skills are needed for jobs of future. To create, shape and organize jobs of future, we need a few highly skilled talented professionals. The solution to the tough problems of future can only be found by a few really top notch scientists, and not by an army of average graduates. The educators must not block those good talents.

Of course, the rest of us will have important roles in many needed supporting functions too where pooled team talents are needed. So, the best way to help all students, particularly the struggling students, is to help them function effectively in team projects where they can leverage from the diverse talent and skills of team members to advance the team goals, and therefore to advance individual goals.


3 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:04 am

kids is a registered user.

Future jobs. you are scary. Know one should be predicting 14-17 year olds futures at low level jobs with low expectations or even high level ones. Pausd is a PUBLIC school district and they owe every child the same education.


2 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2019 at 11:38 am

@Green and Paly parent: Isn't a C+ grade an indicator that there are serious gaps in the child's understanding of very rudimentary (and simple) topics in basic algebra? I would think that even a B+ or lower would indicate some trouble ahead in later courses. It would be in the child's interest to repeat the subject to get a real understanding of it rather than push the child ahead with a shallow facility in basic mathematics.


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2019 at 12:55 pm

kids is a registered user.

@ member.. even a b + ? I think there is enough technology now to have a more precise way to locate where there needs to be reteaching and more practice. Repeating an entire year course to avoid about 10 minutes per kid in writing up a plan of attack? really? There is a lack of care for student's time.


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Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2019 at 5:03 pm

@kids: My kids taking Algebra 8 now. The kids are given second chances in all the tests and the homework assignments. There is no way a "10 minute plan" will fix a kid who is getting B's or less. There are fundamental gaps in their understanding of the material. It's possible they are unmotivated and don't want to put in the effort. Maybe repeating a year is not the answer, but neither is a "10 minute plan".


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 5, 2019 at 9:31 pm

@member
Yes, C+ in Algebra8 *might* mean that a kid has some gaps or it may mean they are in the process of adjustment to the accelerated pacing in the second semester of Algebra. A C+ definitely should not mean that they should be *forced* to repeat Algebra in 9th grade. In most cases, this will not be productive to them and will derail them from AP calculus. The student population in 9th grade Algebra is very different than the 8th grade population. In 8th grade Algebra, 40%+ of students should really be in a more accelerated pathway. The C+ students are probably those that truly belong. Most of the students in the 9th grade course see Algebra for the first time and adding the "C+" students there will be counter productive not only to them but also for the students that never took Algebra. The C+ students of Algebra8 probably only need a little reenforcement and extra support and can do fine in GeoA.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 6, 2019 at 9:37 am

@member some add-on to my response to your comment on what the course grade really means:


The way our honors math classes are structured, and the second semester of 8th grade Algebra mimics that, is that many new concepts are introduced for the first time shortly before a test that also requires applying them in more involved ways. For few kids this is fine. But many students only internalize these concepts AFTER the test, simply because some more time is needed for them to "sink in". So they are proficeint in the material, even though the course grades do not reflect that. The messages from that are that:

(i) This is one of the severe limitations of using a course grade alone for the purpose of placement. We should be using standards-based normed preferebaly untimed assessment tools (such as NWEA MAP) on a periodic basis for the purposes of better understanding each student learning patterns and more accurate placement. Holding a student back a year because of a C+ without looking more closely on their needs can be a grave derailing mistake.

(ii) Because of how our advanced courses are designed, students that already visited the material have a huge advantage. Spiraling and revisiting math concepts is *critical* in allowing concepts to "sink in." This is why external support is such a huge plus for students at PAUSD and the students that do not have access to it are highly disadvantaged.


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Posted by Independent Learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2019 at 9:24 pm

"My kids taking Algebra 8 now. The kids are given second chances in all the tests and the homework assignments. There is no way a "10 minute plan" will fix a kid who is getting B's or less. There are fundamental gaps in their understanding of the material. It's possible they are unmotivated and don't want to put in the effort. "

Another possibility is an undiagnosed learning disability. Kids who are intellectually gifted can often compensate but not perform to their potential when it comes to grades. I have seen this kind of thing chalked up to lack of motivation by teachers because they can see the kids are smart.

Another major possibility is executive function issues. I have seen kids, especially boys, punished for lack of EF skills as if they aren't trying hard enough or are doing it on purpose, because the principal and teachers were mostly women who were organized themselves and just did not know anything about how the brains of teen boys develop. In this district, where there are always going to be enough kids who will handle whatever ridiculous non-learning-related busywork hoopjumping is thrown at them, many teachers just assume those who can't don't care or aren't working hard. It's very frustrating and demoralizing for students who COULD learn the material faster or better (or who did learn the material but don't know how to ask "how high" every time they're told to jump), to be make to redo the class.

In light of the essay by a gifted student who was made to feel stupid going through school here, I think soul searching about these math issues could help improve school for all kinds of students with learning differences.

It is really not hard to create more individualized learning paths for math now. No, you do not have to set kids in front of a computer. Again, learn from the homeschoolers -- it's what they do (create individualized instruction and vet resources), and no, homeschooling does not mean a parent is a dedicated teacher.


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Posted by Member
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 11:47 pm

Member

10 minutes to look at a test and know what was not taught well in a precise way. If you go on the AOPS website and search pre algebra videos , they are great and actually very fun to watch and work along with and are really algebra. Best explanations of algebra. It is only going to get worse . Take lowest lane alg 2 then take all math anywhere else. Russian school of math is expensive but totally worth knowing your kid will know math and be able to pass sat and college entrance exams. Paly math is lecture and then a test that may or may not have been covered. they should be teaching alg in 6grade with geometry to present ideas instead of hanging out with fractions and long division again and again. The elementary program is very weak. To apply to sci majors Calc is the lowest level by sr year and that is actually low now at larger colleges. Try not to get lost in the time sucking mean math web. Join SJSU math circle. Fun and welcoming!


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Posted by Member
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 11:58 pm

Ps

Also BAMA has free fun lectures often at scu that are fun to go to to see that math is not just a power point and one test. Sometimes the lectures are difficult but still it is fun to see the math community and see how these really smart people think. One lecture was on colored grid puzzles and sequencing. Another was on new ideas with chaos. No work. No test, just some math fun. Everyone is invited free.


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Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 9:20 pm

@Greene and Paly parent:

I might agree with your points in theory, but in practice I have trouble accepting them. I have not seen an accelerated pace in the second semester. I asked my child and he said he did not notice a difference between first and second semester thus far. Also the problem sets for the homework are extremely pedestrian (online Big Ideas), and if they are reflective of the tests, then getting a B is a very low bar. As I have mentioned if silly mistakes are made on the tests, the students are given a chance to correct them (for full credit), so again getting a B should be really easy if you have understood the concepts. Yes there could be students who have command of the material, but do not show it on the tests, but these would be rare in my opinion.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2019 at 6:34 pm

@member

We need to step back and take a look at the breakdown of students at our 8th grade courses.

The top 35% of all our students (nature and nurture), which is approximately the top half of our 8th graders in Algebra8, belong in an accelrated higher level pathway (based on CAASPP data Don Austin shared and enrollment at a higher pathway offered at neighboring districts (Los Altos, Saratoga,....)). Your son seems to be in this group. These students have a fairly easy time at Algebra8 and had they been at other districts, they are likely to have taken Algebra already during 7th grade. Demographically, this cohort is overwhelmingly Asian (or 1st-2nd generation other). Most kids in this cohort will be at GeoH in 9th grade.

In this discussion we are focusing on 35%-75% of our students -- which are the bottom half of 8th graders in our Algebra8 classes. These students are struggling to get the B, but they are also the students that truly belong in this "8th grade Algebra1" pathway. These students do experience and are impacted by the accelerating pace. They are discouraged by (needlessly) being "bottom half" (the "eyerolls" effect). Many need tutors, and those that can not afford to will be derailed by the new "C+=FAIL". Demographically, this cohort is mostly high SES white Americans and they would be coasting to GeoA in a balanced pathway such as Saratoga.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:55 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

@member -- FWIW, my kid's teacher specifically told all the parents that Algebra8 was harder 2nd semester than 1st, and that kids would only be able to retake to something like 70%. So your experience is definitely not our experience (at JLS). Also, Green/Paly, my kid's Algebra8 class is at least 20% 7th graders. So seems like many kids are able to do the accelerated pathway. And, yes, my guess is that 100% of them are tutored and/or in after-school math. I don't see the point myself.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 11, 2019 at 10:25 pm

@criteria for Geometry

The 7th graders in Algebra are kids that already visited and have proficeincy in much of the Algebra1 curriculum. To "place" (placement is insanely harsh) they must have after school learning of 2 years ahead of the school curriculum. Many of the top 8th graders are also kids that visited the curriculum already.
At PAUSD only 5% of kids can get to Algebra in 7th whereas the fraction at similar districts is 35%-45%. So the remaining 30%+ simply sit in courses in which they are already mostly proficient or the pacing is too slow.

So your kid is sitting in this Algebra class, that accelerates the pacing, seeing quadratics and much new material for the first time, with "B" required to pass. In this class 50% of students already visited the material. Some were already proficient year start. If your kid has very high math aptitude, this is fine, but this is a very harsh setting for kids that otherwise would do well.

As to your comment on not "seeing the point" in "tutoring". I think I can have a pretty good guess on your demographic :-). A math course is developmentally appropriate if it is suitable in level and pacing. I find that there are cultural differences in how families respond to school math curriculum that is not suitable. Many of the foreign born parents value education very highly and got to where they are because they excelled and worked hard. When the school program is not suitable, they supplement after school. Our more typical Palo Alto white American families take a less proactive approach: They supplement only when the kid starts struggling.

The issue is that our wonderful demographic mix, our narrow and unevenly paced program, and widespread mislacement of already-proficeint kids in courses, makes our middle school math an ineffective and often derailing and demoralizing experience to the majority of our students. Those that compensate, lose their after school time. Those that flow with it, get derailed and demoralized. Experience of other districts shows that all kids can do better by balanced organic pathways in more homogenous grouping.


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 7:21 pm

kids is a registered user.

You did not just say "our more typical palo alto white American families." Using the word "our" also implies any others do not belong.

Most schools in Santa Clara county let kids take algebra in sixth grade. Your typical white kid might want to look at current college admissions.

The district should post their data on what race is in each math class.

The arrogant Paly math dept should not get to use out of print materials kids have not been exposed to for entrance exams into their maze of mixed publisher math. The elementary school does not give tests or skill based homework, yet that is all the high school does. So boring and results are that kids have to teach themselves, fail or get a tutor.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 15, 2019 at 12:35 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

@Paly/Greene -- I appreciate your thoughtful posts on this. I'm not sure what you are advocating for. It sounds like you want more/easier Algebra8 classes in middle school (for example)? If so, I can understand that. There are more lanes in high school than in middle school, so there are many kids in 8th grade who are feeling bad about math because there is no good lane for them. I've heard of kids who are much happier in 9th grade math as a result of that.

I'm not sure I'd draw inferences about my demographic, or interest or lack thereof in working hard. It's just that I'm a strong believer in letting kids figure out what they like to do. And if all their time is spent in after-school classes studying what their parents think is important, then how are the kids ever going to do that?

I also think that accelerated math is overrated. Often colleges will make you re-do it anyway. Or kids choose to, because they want to be sure they have it really solid. Everyone is in such a rush to ... what?


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 15, 2019 at 8:04 pm

@Criteria for Geometry

What I am advocating for is an improved middle school math program that better serves all our children, across the abilities/interest/financial spectrum.

I work in the tech industry, I see what the needs are. Math growth and building positive attitude to math during the middle school years is developmentally critical: A weak middle school preparation means that students can get much less out of high school, where unfortunately students optimize portfolio/graders instead of learning. Moreover, because the way our brains develop, and the way math is (think language or physical development) you can not really catch up as effectively as an adult on what is deprived in the formative years. I find your assertion that "you anyhow repeat the course in college" to be very inaccurate. In my experience, if the first time you see calculus is in your college years you are at a significant disadvantage for a tech job. In particular, your chances of working on the same floor as I do now are slim.

When advocating for improving our program, I am comparing us to nearby and less-funded public school districts (Saratoga and Los Altos for example). Because of the particular way our program is structured, students witout expensive after school support or with no desire for significant after school academics can easily be derailed from where they would be at our sister districts. Moreover, our 3-year program needlessly has multiple failure points for students to get demoralized and derailed: develop negative attitudes towards math and their own adequacy.

Below I will now elaborate, by cohort, on what we do and how we can do better.

First, our "average" math students (roughly, 35% to 75% percentiles). These students are in the top 20% in CA. The goal post for them is to emerge from middle school with strong Algebra1 foundations and perhaps aim tp AP AB calculus in high school. These students follow our "primary" pathway of math6, math 7A, and Algebra8. Here are the failure points:
(i) This pathway is highly imblaanced in terms of curriculum: Very slow 6th grade, somewhat higher pacing in 7A, leading to the highest pace is in the second semester of 8th grade Algebra where a lot of new material is introduced for the first time. The pace in the second semester is similar to the high school "H" lane, which derails the students that otherwise would go to the "A" line.
(ii) Our ineffective 6th grade. Our 6th grade math teahers are not math specialist (they do not have the qualification to teach prealgebra). Few are ineffective even for teaching "math 6". Student that happened to get a less effective teacher are automatically derailed from doing well in 7A (unless they get a tutor).
(iii) Because we are missing a "high" lane, the top 35% of students and the next 40% are essentially grouped together in Agebra8. Sitting with students that are already proficient in a new curriculum you are trying to learn is a highly demoralizing experience for the second cohort. The students that actually belong in 8th grade algebra pathway feel they are out of place. "Eye rolls" make it hard to ask questions. Sometimes teachers respond more to top students.
(iv) Our Algebra8 and 7A classes are on average larger (28-30) students than other core classes. This is because the district choses to keep math7/8 courses small.
(v) New this year: The district raised the bar for GeoA to match that of GeoH (!) a "B" is required to pass Algebra8. I expect very many students to be derailed by this.

How we can serve these students better:
Other districts (look at Sunnyvale and Saratoga) have a balanced pathway with specialist teachers starting 6th grade. So students learn CCSS M6 and most of CCSS M7 in 6th grade. Then learn CCSS M7/M8 in 7th grade. This allows them to focuse on Algebra1 curriculum in 8th, with much spiraling and lower pace (at Palo Alto, our Algebra8 course is Algebra1+most of CCSS M8). These balanced pathway provide all students an apportunity to build stronger Algebra foundations even without expensive tutors. BTW, the "C+=Fail' rule (must repeat Algebra) is a new Palo Alto only rule. Other districts consider C+ to be a passing grade.

Second: Our "top" 35% of math students. Don Austin shared data in October that shows that (on average) 35% of our 6th graders START 6th being proficient (exceed state standard (!)) of the *grade 7* CCSS M7 standards (!!). These students have little to nothing to gain from their school time math course ("math 6"). Moreover, courses are rigid with no appropriate differentiaiton (the very limited in-lesson differentiateion is not designed to support already-proficient students). Being sidelined by teachers that are focused on the needs of other students, being in a rigid inappropriate course, and being offered no path for productive use of time, induces social and behavioral problems on many of these students. Academially, their only path for growth is by taking a structure after-school course (at loss of after school time).

What other districts do: At Los Altos and Saratoga 35%-40% of 6th graders are placed in math courses that cover our "7A". These courses are taught by specialist teachers that are qualified to teach this curriculum.

What Palo Alto can do to serve these students is to open 7A placement to qualified 6th graders. There is a convoluted "justification" to this restriction in placement docs. The real issue is that most of our current 6th grade math teachers are not qualified to teach 7th grade math and providing the "right" program for 75% of our students would require specialist teachers.

Last but not least: "Bottom" 25% (many low SES). What usually works there is informed intervention in small homogenuous groups by specialists teachers, during school time. We are doing worse than other districts also for these students.

Also, in Palo Alto, our low SES students have an effectively hard "ceiling" of math8 at 8th grade. One stats that stands out compared to other districts is the much lower fraction of "exceeding standard" SES students.


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 15, 2019 at 8:58 pm

@Criteria for Geometry

You have an 8th grader in Algebra. Just see the difference: Please look at Saratoga's middle school math flex pathways:

Web Link

The Saratoga balanced pathway to Algebra in 8th grade allows many more students to do well in 8th grade Algebra without tutoring and be well prepared for high school GeoA. Here are key differences:

-- Saratoga's balanced pathway starting 6th grade allows their 8th graders to focus only on "Algebra1". In Palo Alto, our 8th graders (Algebra8) must cover both most of CCSS M8 AND Algebra1.

-- Saratoga has teachers that are math specialist for their 6th grade courses. At PAUSD the 6th grade teachers "chose" what to teach, they don't need to have the qualification.

-- At Saratoga: 70% grade is considered "passing' and allows students to flex into a higher lane. At PAUSD, a C+ in Algebra8 means that students must repeat the class. This is less stressful for students and allows them to focus on learning rather than grade and recover from a bad semester.

-- Placement at Saratoga is guided by normed standardized assessment tools and "flex" options for students. The guidelines are data driven with board oversight. PAUSD uses an ad hoc and out-of-norms placement process.

The spending per student/year at Saratoga is LOWER than Palo Alto. But the state assessments results for all cohorts are better.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 15, 2019 at 10:08 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

I think you nail the description of the problems, esp the very different pacing in 6 vs 7 vs 8. But I disagree on your proposed solution.

I don't like Saratoga's math:

(1) Saratoga has 3 lanes in each grade. That seems like it would be more expensive, more logistically difficult, and considerably more angst-inducing then what we already have. I'm not a fan.

(2) I strongly disagree with building a lane that skips content, as their third lane does. It essentially mandates tutoring, and I don't think a public school (or any school, really) should do that. If the district spends its own money to support get-ahead tutoring, it would only encourage more of it. I much prefer PAUSD's "skip a grade" solution, with a high bar so only the brightest kids can do it.

I think the root problems of our middle-school math program are:
(1) The Algebra8 class has to make up too much ground from the slow 6th grade, so second semester is very fast.
(2) The 7A and Algebra8 classes are filled with tutored kids, so the teachers often assume some level of tutoring, and the untutored kids aren't adequately taught and end up feeling slow and/or stupid.

My solution would be:

(1) Teachers should teach to the untutored kids, and recognize their efforts. If the tutored kids are bored, so be it. Teachers should teach as though kids have never seen the material before. (My kid says the teacher assumes kids have seen it before, so instead learns the material from the student helpers in class, who actually teach it.)

(2) Either cover more in 6th grade (probably requires a second lane), or cover less in Algebra8, with possibly some optional assignments for kids who want to do H.

I think the pausd math program isn't too far off. They are in a very tough position with so many kids going outside of the program and then expecting the program to accommodate them. They are trying to hold the line, while also supporting the truly talented and the slower kids.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 16, 2019 at 1:50 am

@Criteria for Geometry

I very much disagree on how the already-proficient kids in your child's Algebra class should be treated. I can see your frustration with their negative impact on your child. But you need to understand that it is not their fault. These kids are not bored because they learned it already. They learned it already because the school pacing was not right for them. They did not choose to be in your child's class. They are forced to sit there by systematic misplacement of a broken process. Just like your kid, these are 10-13 year olds and have similar emotional needs. Without drasticaly changing the instruction method, the only solution is to offer a broder program with more accurately placement. Other districts offer such programs at much lower cost and they and show better results for all students.


Saratoga's program is one compromise between the needs of the top 35-40% and the needs of the next 35-40%. Here the "middle" gets a perfectly balanced organic pathway but the "top" have to study some on their own. This is not ideal but adequate because their learning pace is much above the CCSS pacing in elementary and the elementary teachers are accomodating (can do independent work during school time) the burden placed on these kids was deemed adequate by Saratoga

It is interesting to look at Los Altos:
Web Link
Here the pathways look like ours except that there is an additional balanced accelerated *organic* higher lane that this time caters to the top 35%-40%. Here high aptitude kids can get to 7th grade algebra and 8th grade geometry without external study at all (no skipping). So here the needs of the top group are taken care of, but the second group, does not get a balanced pathway.

Sunnyvale has many more "middle group" kids than "first group" and cater to them: They offer a balanced pathway to Algebra.
Web Link

Cupertino seems to have many more "top group" students (45%) and does it the Los Altos way:
Web Link


Note that there aren't too many different courses at Saratoga. There is the CCSS paced lane math6, math7, math8. Then there is math 6/7A (here "7A" means first part of "math7"), math 7B/8, (balanced) Algebra1, and Geometry. But there are enough kids from each grade level to create (mostly) "same grade" sections of each course. I bet the 6th graders in 7B/8 are musch stronger than the 7th graders, so this grade-level separation of sections is healthier. (40% of Saratoga's students place in 7B/8 in 6th grade and a similar number does it in 7th).

So I don't think we should treat it as one group instead of another. We in Palo Alto can better serve all our students.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 16, 2019 at 2:30 am

@Criteria for Geometry

I really appreciate this discussion. Some comments on your proposal:

-- Our Algebra8 course must include the full CCSS Algebra1 content for compliance and math 6/7/8 must be covered in middle school. I don't think we can cut off content. The only option really is to balance the pathway byo (similarly to Saratoga) pushing content down to 6th grade so that our 8th graders can focus on Algebra1 for the entire year.

-- About your reference to PAUSD putting a "high bar" on so called "above grade" placement (Algebra in 7th grade). I am guessing your kids have not been subjected to that process. Mine were. I can elaborate if you wish, but the high level is that the process that is applied to kids is unprofessional, defies scientific and education norms, and harmful. Also, simply looking at numbers, does it make sense to you that carefully calibrated normed assessmenets at Los Altos, Saratoga, and Cupertino end up in 35%-45% of their students doing Algebra1 in 7th grade whereas we are at 5%?

-- You are making some nebulous distinction between "truly talented" and "tutored" kids while expressing frustration towards the kids that you call "tutored". I think you are not being fair. We have a program that holds 30% of our kids back a year from where they would be in Los Altos, Saratoga, or Cupertino. Are you surprised that many kids are compensating after school?

-- I think it is important to understand that the dis-serrvice of one group, no matter which way, and ending up with courses where many students do not belong, harms all students, including those that do belong.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 16, 2019 at 11:10 am

Actually take a look at CUSD middle school math program -- set by a nice transparent process with annual revisions and input from all stake holders and data and careful consideration of emotional and academic needs. They don't burry problems -- They expose them and address them. They have a "math advisory cancel" with public summaries that surface and discuss issues. We have a highly opaque "math steering committee" consists of only staff members with NO public notes and engagement in cover ups. Envious care for their students and a data driven scientific methodology.

CUSD middle school math:
Web Link

For next year, they seem to be considering another revision of their program that will have BOTH a balanced pathway to Algebra in 8th (a 4/3 pathway) AND a balanced 5/3 pathway (Geometery in 8th) with flexible move points. Note that they are working with a much lower per student budget than us!

Current proposal for CUSD next year pathways (all main cohorts are served!)
Web Link


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Posted by No longer on the map
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 17, 2019 at 9:44 pm

Our neighboring districts engage in continuous revision and improvement of their middle school math programs. They share experiences and analyze data and feedback from their stake holders. They showed us that it is possible to server well all students. That when underserving one segment we actually negatively impact other segments -- the math program is not a zero sum game. Our neighbors offer a broader program that support more students and everyone benefits. Data shows that they are obtaining much better results than us for comparable segments. Their students are more advanced. Their top students excel in math competitions and many more of their low SES students exceed standards. We are a much richer district, with a much larger budget per student, and manage to blow it off by a program that unnecessarily derails and demoralizes many.

Up to a decade ago, PAUSD used to be the district that our neighbors look up to and learn for. But now we are no longer on that map. We can see that the latest revision at CUSD was based on reviews of programs from around the county:

Web Link

They looked at Saratoga, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and Hillview. Palo Alto was not even looked at...

This is not surprising for those that experience our program from within. Our program was in stagnation/deterioration for decades, oblivious to the needs of our changing demographics and the 21st century. Many families (including board members!) choose to bypass our middle schools. This open secret harms our children but may soon start impacting our property values

The failed and misconceived experiment of the 9th grade Algebra course only serves to demonstrate the severe issues with our processes. That experiment went against expert recommendations (the Hanover report). It demonstrates a failure not only in its results but also of methodology. Of significant concern is our education board decision (in departure from our neighbors) of not only not providing oversight on our math program, but also requesting to not be informed (!).


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2019 at 9:09 pm

kids is a registered user.

There is bragging about the kids taking calc 3, but they did not notice other districts have several sections and in earlier years because the other districts reward talent and teach kids math in middle school and prepare them for critical thinking early on. Kids that are good at math or want to work hard are discouraged and told to "go deep" and that is what this math program has done, gone deep. Kids that need help have help refused at all levels.


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Posted by No longer on the map
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 18, 2019 at 10:26 pm

I have something to say on the "going deeper" phrase. Please do not trust the district's (mis)representation of their program and their (ill informed and often derailing) recommendations for your kids.

The district math placement documents contain many misrepresentations, biased ill advice, and misleading claims about the program. The instructional ISs and teachers are trained to repeat these lines. When you ask for substative data, further explanation, or sense, it is not provided because it does not exist.

They use intimidation, stonewalling, and misrepresentation, year after year, on children and parents, until the concerns that are not addressed are no longer relevant. Then they repeat.

The "going deeper into the curriculum" is just one of their vacious favourite phrases. This propaganda is used to provide a "justification" for their inadequate program and widespread egregious misplacements of hundreds of students, in particular in 6h grade. The education world agrees that a year with no growth and math development, during middle school, can have long term negative impact. So they must have an answer for the very many 6th graders that are essentially proficient in CCSS M6 year start, but placed in "math 6", where all instruction time is used on the CCSS M6 curriculum and instructin is rigid (no alternative work outside the curriculum is permitted). The story is that these students are provided an opportunity to "go deeper" and they can grow this way. Another is that "it is important to be solid" (but they do not have a methodology to determine level and solidness....).

At least the teachers, when asked, must cover this. So "deeper" at pausd was work provided to kids to do independently without any meaningful feedback, discussion, instruction, or supervison in their own time. For example, the Einstein packets until last year and some SCCOE material this year (that they had the "hutspa" to announce in October as inovation...). They also not misrepresent the
very limited "in-lesson" variety of problems (sometimes know us the "either" and the "or" HW choices to those subjected to it). This variety is built into the "big ideas" curriculum. But even the "Big Ideas" (the text books) publishers and authors do not agree that this is adequate to support students that are already proficient(!)

Be careful interpreting the propaganda. Be very careful taking their recommendations. I know that it is hard for parents to override such forcefully expressed misguidance from "professionals". But please seek external input if in doubt. I saw so many kids get derailed with the 7/7A recommendations. I saw kids that overrod it and went to 7A and are doing very well (the 7A teachers are specialists and are generally better).


3 people like this
Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 19, 2019 at 7:48 am


Lets take a comparative look of math program and results of our own middle school (say Greene middle school) and the Hillview (Menlo Park) middle school. Menlo Park operates with a fraction of our per-student budget. Their population is not as affluent (not many can afford the $100+/hour tutors that are used in Palo Alto).

But they do offer a very broad middle school math program where many of their students can be supported during their time at school.

Web Link

Their math pathways include
* two-period math intervention for students diagnosed to be a grade level or more below standards
* An additional math period option for students that need extra support to stay on grade level pathway (math6, math7, math8)
* Organic balanced path to 8th grade Algebra, starting in 6th grade
* Organic path to 7th grade Algebra and 8th grade Geometry (starting 5th grade)
They pathways have multiple points were kids can catch up and lane up (using bridges provided at school)

Link for information for parents introducing and explaining the program:
Web Link


We can now look at results per segment for their 6th graders using the CAASPP data (available for 2018). Hillview seems to be about the size of our larger middle schools, so we can look at Greene (our largest).

Lets look at fraction at Level4 (exceeding standards)

White students: Hillview: 71% exceed standards Greene: 53% exceed standard

Asian students: Hillview 91% exceed standards Greene 84% exceed standard

Latino/Hispanics: Hillview 33% exceed standards Greene: 26% exceed standards

Greene 2018 data:
Web Link

Hillview 2018 data:
Web Link


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Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2019 at 8:58 am

Another is a registered user.

Greene and Paly Parent,

To be fair, the 6th grade %s for Hillview seem to be a bit of an outlier.

Looking at the Asian students scoring at "Standard Exceeded" in 2018, the %s were 91%, 78%, 79% for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, respectively. For Greene, the %s were 84%, 87%, and 88%. So Greene students actually scored higher than Hillview's in two out of the three grades.

For white students scoring at "Standard Exceeded" in 2018, the %s were 71%, 60%, and 70% for Hillview and 53%, 63%, 59% for Greene. So Greene 6th and 8th graders did score markedly worse than Hillview's--but Greene 7th graders scored better than Hillview's.






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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 19, 2019 at 9:36 am

@Another

Good points. Response:

We have a more educated and much more affluent population and spend perhaps 50% more per student than Menlo Park. We SHOULD have much better results, even with the same exact curriculum. What is shocking is that we do not. We blow it off.

We do better for 7th graders than for our 6th graders. Our 7th grade math is laned with specialist qualified teachers (we can get good teachers with more $$). So it is more effective than our 6th grade (non specialist teachers and one fixed limited curriculum).

My observation is that many (white) families get tutors in 7th and 8th to compensate for our 6th grade so kids stay on track to calculus in high school. Many (Asian) families compensate already in 6th grade by providing a suitable after school program. These resources may not be available for many more in Hillsview. But they still to very very well.

More about Asians: Since the numbers are already hovering on 80%+, and it is not very large populations (perhaps 100-150 Asian students per grade) the differences are less significant there. It would be more meaningful to follow same group of students across grades. Also, for Asians, we don't really have granularity as this available data shows only grade level performance. What would be meaningful there are adaptive tests such as NWEA MAP or at least the break down within the very large "exceeding standards" group. Other data indicates that most of our Asian student exceed the standards of the NEXT grade level.


3 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2019 at 10:49 am

kids is a registered user.

The scores you all see from low income,underserved students are the exact result of just the program and nothing else. It was advantageous even a few years ago to get ahead with tutors, but now they are necessary for simple a-g classes and Palo Alto kids have such a ridiculous maze of different publishers and mixed classes and are only lectured and tested, not really taught.


8 people like this
Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 20, 2019 at 2:13 pm




Here is a more detailed comparison of Hillview (Menlo Park) versus Greene (Palo Alto) middle school math results.
The upshot is that Hillview, which offers a very broad program, does at least as well on all segments, and the difference is clearly statistically significant (two standard deviations) for white students. Hillview shows us that we should not be thinking that the math program can support "my kid OR yours". What works best is a program that supports "my kid AND yours".


The vast majority of white students in Palo Alto are accomodated (in terms of suitability of the 3-year curriculum) by the narrow PAUSD pathways:
-- common core pacing math6, math7, math8
-- common core "acceleration" math7A, Algebra8

The imbalance (slow 6th grade, triple paced second semester of 8th grade) makes it harder than need be. But overall the goal posts are in the right place for the majority of this segment. But the program is grossly unsuitable for (low SES) Latinos (on average, well below standards, need targeted intervention) and Asian students (on average, exceed standards of the next grade level, not supported by grade-level curriculum). In our district, we have a program suitable for the "middle" minority but underserves others.


The argument I am hearing against broadening our program so that more are served better are that:
(i) this take resources away
(ii) demoralize the children on the Algebra8 pathway (because it will not be a higher lane)
(iii) believe in having "multi-abilities" classrooms.

The answer for (iii) is that we the rigid instruction methods in all our math secondary courses (starting 6th grade) is not compatible with supporting already-proficient or struggling students. And by having so many students for which the curriculum is not appropriate, we are also harming the students for which the curriculum is appropriate.

As for (i) and (ii), data from Hillview middle school (Menlo Park) shows that it is not a zero sum game: A broader program that supports more students can be implemented with lower cost and better serve everyone.

Hillview has (Menlo Park elementary) have a lower per-student budget they also have a less educated population than Palo Alto and parent education level is considered hugely advantageous for their children.

Education (Bachelor : Graduate school) Palo Alto: 88% : 55% Menlo Park City Elementary: 80% : 47%

Web Link
Web Link

So with all equal, we should be doing better with/for our students.

The demographics seems to be somewhat different than Palo Alto: Hillview has a similar fraction of latino students, a much smaller fraction of Asian students, and a white majority. Looking at CAASPP demographic data for 6th grade we have:

total (tested)
white : asian: latino/hispanics

Hillview (Menlo Park): 313 (311)
W 186 (184) : A 33 (33) : L 51 (51)

Greene (Palo Alto): 321 (316)

W 135 (132) : A 91 (89) : L 43 (43)

What is interesting is that Hillview adopted a very broad middle school math program. Their program includes (i) 2-period intervention and support for those below or just at CCSS standards level (ii) organic balanced pathways to 8th grade Algebra or to 7th grade Algebra/8th grade Geometry.

Web Link


As noted, the 6th grade results from Hillview look better for all these three segments.

White students: Hillview: 71% exceed standards Greene: 53% exceed standard
Asian students: Hillview 91% exceed standards Greene 84% exceed standard
Latino/Hispanics: Hillview 33% exceed standards Greene: 26% exceed standards

The segment where the gap is statistically significant is the white segment, where it is more than two standard deviations. Our white students seem to catch up in 7th grade (comparable) but loose ground again in a statistically significant way in 8th grade (Greene: 59% Hillview: 70% ). So the white graduates of Greene get to high school less solid and less prepared than the white graduates of Hillview.


There are some limitations to this data, but it clearly supports a broader program given the form of instruction that we currently use. Their population is more homogeneous ethnicity wise, but they still chose to be inclusive in their offerings. What is surprising perhaps is that our Asian students, that our program underserves (many would be on a more accelerated pathway in other districts), are not long-term harmed. My observation (from my kids and peers) are that most Asian students compensate -- so while they lose after school time and families have to shed out time and cash, the end results is that most go to high school prepared. The segments disadvantaged the most by our program in a way that may impact them in the longer term are those that are below grade level or struggling to remain at grade level (they can not catch up) and -- surprisingly -- our white segment. So the math program is not a zero sum game and we should stop thinking it is "my kid OR yours". Hillview shows us that it can be "my kid AND yours".



Greene 2018 data:
Web Link

Hillview 2018 data:
Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 20, 2019 at 3:40 pm




Lets look now at the 2018 data of another neighbor: Los Altos. How are their white students are doing in middle school math compared to ours?


Los Altos offers a middle school math program that supercedes ours in that they also offer a higher lane starting 6th grade that leads to 7th grade Algebra and 8th grade Geometry. From reports, I gather that the high lane (Geometry in 8th) is predominantly Asian. The middle lane (Algebra in 8th) is predominantly white.
Web Link



Lets think of the experience of the (mostly white) cohort that a combination of motivation/family/natural-learning-pace would take to Algebra in 8th grade. The PRO at Los Altos is that they can focus on learning without the potentially intimidating presence of 50% of alread-proficient students in their class. The CON at Los Altos is that in the back of their mind they know there is a high lane and that they are not in the high lane.

So where is the Los Altos white segment in terms of proficiency of standards compares to Palo Alto?

We can first look at 6th graders. Los Altos has a (laned) 6th grade in elementary school. So we need to look at each of the many elementary schools. Recall that at our Greene, 53% of white students exceed standards. Here is what is happening in Los Altos (the numbers speak for themselves):

Santa Rita: 64% of 6th graders exceed standard (45 students)
Web Link

Almond: 71% (out of 29)

Covington 73% (out of 33)

Gardner Bullis 71% (out of 24)

Loyola 51% (out of 37)

Oak Avenue 64% (out of 29)

Springer 68% (out of 44)



What is happening for white Los Altos 8th graders?

The 8th grade is important - right before high school. Recall that at Greene we have 59% of our white 8th graders exceeding standard. (Recall that the number was 70% at Hillview, Menlo Park).

Los Altos has two middle schools. At both, 70% of white students exceed standards (!) Again, a statistically very significant advantage over PAUSD white students. The white students out of Los Altos middle schools are more solid and more prepared for high school that out of our PAUSD middle schools. So this is another strong case for laning.


Egan Middle 8th graders 70% (139 white students) exceed standards
Web Link


Blach Middle 8th graders 71% (128 white students) exceed standards
Web Link

Again, we should not be thinking "my kid OR yours" we should go for a program that serves "my kid AND yours".


@Criteria-for-Geometry what do you say?


2 people like this
Posted by Manny
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2019 at 9:30 pm

Who needs Algebra? I fall into one of those underachieving 'minority report' math groups but I am not losing any sleep over it. Because...I will never need or use algebra for anything once I get my GED.

I am going into the trades like the rest of my family & believe it or not, two of my uncles who have only a 10th grade education make more than some of the workers at Google. We're talking well over $200,000 a year man.

Arithmetic is important but algebra & geometry? The only time I use geometry is when I'm shooting pool & I don't need no math teacher to teach me about angles.
It just comes naturally.

Algebra is OK is you're planning to go to college and want to major in the physical sciences. Not me...I'm gonna be a high-rise welder & make even more money than some of these braniacs.

My cousin Alejandro just got drafted to play major league baseball & he got a $75,000 signing bonus. Not bad for a guy who flunked algebra.


2 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
21 hours ago

@Manny: You should keep in mind that we are on the cusp of a revolution in technology. Many jobs of today will simply not exist in the not too distant future. With the advances we see today in AI you can expect they will be done by semi-intelligent robots. Wouldn't it be much better to have a robot do high rise welding? It would be safer, cheaper, and able to work night and day at breakneck speed. You should want to learn everything you can now while you have the chance to do so with little other obligations to insulate yourself from an uncertain future. BTW, don't feel bad, even primary care doctors will be replaced by AI.


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
12 hours ago

kids is a registered user.

seriously, if you are a parent of any young kid, go to art of problem solving and try to take the classes. They teach thinking, not just math and that is what is needed for kids as they grow up, not memorization. Also, it would seem easy to set up some math circles and stop acting so afraid of the power of math and thinking in groups. It should be fun. AOPS has online groups, fun contests and such. It is not as good as a group working together, but better than nothing which is what you will get if you do nothingl


1 person likes this
Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
36 minutes ago

I completely agree with @kids that Art of Problem Solving (AoPS)
Web Link
has an amazing curriculum. To me, it is the bible of k12++ math. It is pure joy to go through. The Big Idea curriculum, in contrast, make me quizzy -- I can open the book anywhere and within few minutes of browsing see a significant error or an ill-formed example/question. But all that said, the AoPS curriculum (prealgebra and on) is not for everyone. There is not enough drilling and very quickly it goes to problems that need more complex application of concepts. Many kids need more drilling and even some kids that enjoy AoPS would benefit from first covering the curriculum in a more basic way such as Khan academy or aleks.com (but the AoPS elementary program "beast academy" has a very broad appeal).

I strongly recommend supporting your kid's growth in math outside of PAUSD regardless of their level and ability. Even 15-20 minutes a day can go a very long way, starting elementary school. And if the kid needs more challenge then AoPS is amazing.

AoPS academy (AoPS just now opened a new academy (live classes) in Fremont):
Web Link
AoPS online (prealgebra to calculus and more, online and books. Also Python):
Web Link
Beast Academy (elementary school curriculum, online and books):
Web Link

While we all wait for a broader program, think about supporting your kids outside of school.


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