Beaverton School District considers math integration at high schools

Beaverton high schools have a mathematical dilemma.

The traditional sequence of math starts with algebra I for freshmen, geometry for sophomores and algebra II for juniors. The district is finding that students tend to forget some of their algebra during their year of studying geometry, which hurts them in algebra II.

Teachers have to reteach concepts or the students simply don’t do well and aren’t prepared for college, the Beaverton School Board learned Monday. Of the graduating class of 2014, who enrolled in Oregon universities, about 15 percent had to take remedial math, according to district numbers.

The district is also faced with the need to meet Common Core Standards in preparation for the Smarter Balanced statewide assessment test, Dennis Williams, district math teacher on special assignment told the board.

Math is a hot topic in most school districts and Beaverton is no exception. Six years ago, debate raged as the district sought a new math curriculum, and memories of that time gave rise to concerns Monday.

After talking with principals and teachers, Williams and his team proposed combination classes known as AGS1 and AGS2 – Algebra/Geometry/Statistics — to replace the current algebra I and geometry courses. Students would have a choice to take AGS3 and accelerated AGS3 the third year.

The classes would allow more focused teacher collaboration as well as help with the algebra/geometry dilemma. It would also allow alignment with some science and social studies learning targets, Williams said. Mathematical modeling, using real world problems, would also be part of the plan.

“Teachers can move through math in a much more efficient way,” Williams said.

A couple of long-time board members cautioned Williams.

“You’ve got a highly interested community as well,” said Mary VanderWeele, board chairwoman. “We went through a lot of pain and a big group got together to work through that and we came up with a compromise. So, let’s be careful. Common Core and Smarter Balanced add some different fuel to that fire, but I’m concerned about that because none of us wants to go back there.”

The curriculum, Williams stressed, includes traditional approaches to math as well as an integrated approach.

“They still need to know how to do the algebraic functions,” he said, adding that it’s not as big of a shift as it sounds.

“We’re all aware of what potentially did or didn’t work before,” Williams said. “But the data clearly shows what we’re doing now isn’t all that spectacular either. Whatever switch we made didn’t make that much of a difference.”

The AGS1 classes would be tested in one or two schools next fall and would roll out to all schools in the fall of 2016. Followed by AGS2 in 2017 and AGS3 in 2018, Williams said.

At least two board members raised concerns about the timing, saying it needed to be tested for a longer period to determine its effectiveness before using it district wide.