I am often asked, “What can we do for high school students who are not “ready?” I think the question educators are trying to ask is “What can we do when students have unfinished learning?” This, is a great question because we know this may impact a students’ ability to access the mathematics learning at high levels. I think the bigger question is, “What can we do when students have unfinished learning so students can have access to mathematics learning at high levels?”
Remember: The point of the first Shift of Focus is to spend the majority of time on the most important high school content to increase college and career readiness.
We can use the HS Focus document to focus instructional time on the especially and relatively important high school content and widely applicable prerequisite for a range of college majors, postsecondary programs and careers. The focused instructional time can be used to provide scaffolding to increase access to mathematics learning at high levels. This does not change the content or duration of a high school course. It redistributes the instructional time to focus on the especially and relatively important high school content. This shifts the content coverage to an inch-wide and a mile-deep approach.
Below are tips to help implement Focus at the high school level.
- Access to high school mathematics standards *
- Focusing on the especially and relatively important high school domains, clusters, and standards
- Problem solving and communicating reasoning focused on widely applicable prerequisites
- Access to the teachers with the most experience or perceived to be most-effective
- Scaffolding instruction
- Below grade level mathematics standards *
- Covering the standards in a “checklist” approach lacking focus
- Problem solving and communicating reasoning applied to complex high school content
- Access to the least experience or perceived to be least-effective
- Stretching content over two years for the sake of slowing it down
What about data science, statistics and probability? While I agree, these are highly applicable and relevant content and courses, they are just not the current gatekeeper contents, it’s algebra. We cannot replace algebra content courses with non-algebra content and hope to increase the college and career readiness for our students.
What about an equivalent course to algebra 2? Schools are able to place the standards (content) in the high school course as they locally determine. Content is content. Especially and relatively important high school domains, clusters, and standards emphasis can be differentiated within a course to locally meet the needs of students as well as teaching approach such as a discrete vs integrated approach. The student learning is the desired outcome. The only guidance about time we are given in the high school standards is to spend the majority of time on the most important content.
It is often tempting to lower the expectations for students with unfinished learning because we want to put them on a certain career “pathway.” I hear it all the time, “but “these” students can’t or they are never going to…” However, this approach and mind-set does not increase their college and career readiness. We do not know what a students’ future holds or what the world will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years. Many of our students will have to re-train at some point and we do not mathematics to be the barrier.
I know first-hand what this looks, I was one of “those students.” I began my life in a foster home, was returned to a teenage mom, labeled “at-risk,” had chronic absenteeism (47 days my 7th grade year), put in short-hand and typing classes in hopes I would at least be employable as a secretary. And I was never denied access to mathematics learning at high levels?
While I never used the shorthand, I have found the typing classes to be most helpful in my current role, which no one would have ever predicted for me. But I joined the military for six years, had access to options like education and basic needs, found my inner strength and self-esteem, and now hold a bachelor of science in mathematics.
It was because I had access to “mathematics learning at high levels” in school that mathematics was not a barrier when I returned back to school. I went to school in New York under the Regents program and had access to mathematics learning at high levels” We should not judge a students’ exit from our schools by their entrance into our schools.
Schools should refrain from student tracking, teacher tracking, and ensure students have access to mathematics learning at high levels. We want to equip our students with the high school content they will need to pursue their dreams without their K-12 mathematics learning being a barrier that keeps them from realizing their fullest potential. Want to make a difference in the life of a student in poverty, give them access to mathematics learning at high levels. Mathematics learning at high levels allowed me to leave a life of generational poverty. Don’t we want that to be the story for all of our students in Iowa?
In my next blog, I will connect this topic to the 2nd Shift of Coherence and share resources, tools and strategies that can be used.
* the mathematics standards contain additional standards denoted by (+) and are not intended for all students.