How to count HS mathematics?

I receive several questions about how to count high school mathematics.  Years, courses, standards, etc.  Students need three years of mathematics and all of the standards. In Iowa, we have local control which means high schools can decide how to “bundle” standards into courses.  Which can be confusing to count.  We know counting matters.  So, let’s think about counting in regards to standards.

Again, how schools bundle the mathematics standards is up to them in high school.  The mathematics standards do not designate specific courses.  If you count the high school mathematics standards, you will find there are over 150 of them.  For simplicity, we will just say 150 standards.  Next, I am going to say something that will surprise many – the number of the high school mathematics standards does not matter.  That’s right – it does not matter how many there are.


This is because, they are not the same things or the same size. Just like the ducks and pizzas. They cannot be counted together because they are not the same.  What I mean by this, is the fact that there are 150 standards means just that, there are 150 standards.  Some of them are big and some of them are smaller.  If most of them are small, then they do not amount to very much.  But we all know that even if they are all small, there is still a lot of high school mathematics content so we must have Focus which is usually missed in implementing the standards.  (I explain this further below.)

The bigger question I get asked is about counting courses of different length that contains the same number of standards.  So, let’s do some math.  If all students have to take three years of mathematics and all students need all of the standards, then most would say, it would be a good idea to divide them into three equal parts and handle it that way.  But when if we take the standards and divide them into 1/3’s and stretch that over two years, that still leaves 2/3’s of the standards to fit into the last year. Which does not seem feasible because if it takes me two years to get through 1/3 of the standards, then getting through (hopefully learning) 2/3’s of the standards in half the time seems like it would not work.

How is this all supposed to work?  It comes down to Focus.

Screen Shot 2019-09-23 at 2.28.24 PM

All standards for all students bundled in a way that that honors the “importance,” the “weighting,” or the Focus of the standards.  Since high school was structured differently than K-8, then many miss the Focus Documents for high school.  To say it another way, most of the time in high school mathematics should be spent on the standards that matter the most to prepare students for the futures they want.  Take a look at the Focus Documents, notice that it doesn’t say we are skipping any standards.  It says, spend most of the time on algebra and functions because if student can solve some things and graph some things, it will serve them well.  Perhaps an algebra heavy geometry would be the right path for some students.

When students do not get an opportunity to learn all of the standards, are “we” becoming the deciding factor for their future? Is this an access and equity issue? Are students belonging to a certain sub-group more likely to end up not getting all the standards? Is this contributing to the achievement gap? Are we able to predict which students will not get access to all of the standards?  What are the solutions besides not giving students access?

Lastly, the (+) are the additional standards and are not intended for all students.

Let me know your thoughts and questions.

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