Friday, December 4, 2009

College Readiness: High School Math Pathways

This is a work in progress. It will undergo frequent changes and updates. 
To contribute comments and feedback, e-mail LT at ThinkAlgebra.

Is your child in a math sequence that prepares her for college mathematics or for remedial math? Will she be ready for formal algebra in middle school?
Approximately 80% of high school students want some form of post-secondary education, either an associate’s degree at a community college or a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university; however, according to Achieve, "Only a subset end up taking a curriculum that prepares them for college."
Reality Check: Most students are not fluent in arithmetic needed for algebra. Algebra courses are watered down. State standards lack coherence, rigor, and focus. In NCLB, “mediocre” performance is labeled “proficient.” Students lag behind their peers in high-achieving nations, starting in elementary school. 
ThinkAlgebra outlines high school math pathways (common core algebra courses and assessments that make teachers, students, and schools accountable), reiterates the contention that K-8 math should be fixed first, advocates that schools use good programs that are already available (e.g., Singapore Math, ADP Algebra), believes that four-year college-bound students should take at least one college-level math course in high school, stipulates that not all students need to take algebra, and champions the retraining of teachers to teach world-class math.

High School Math Pathways by ThinkAlgebra is a response [alternative] to the college-career readiness draft from the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). Click the chart for a larger view.
The chart, while incomplete and in first draft form, represents the academic realities of college preparation. It shows real algebra courses supported by levels of achievement as defined by the American Diploma Project (ADP) Assessment Consortium. (Note. I named Calculus Prep and [College] Algebra Prep pathways after the two University of Arizona math placement tests.) While the ADP algebra exams are not perfect, they can be refined and polished over years of use.

College-career readiness standards should focus on the "80% of high school students" who want to go to college. Furthermore, they should have specific common assessments to determine mastery along the pathway to guide students into informed choices. But, this is not how CCSSI approaches the problem.
Pathway Assessments in Algebra
We can use programs already in play, such as Algebra 1 standards,  Algebra 2 standards, and their assessments (see exam links below) from the American Diploma Project (ADP) by Achieve. They are used by several states and illustrate that students coming into algebra are not prepared.
The ADP topics match well with most of the algebra topics advocated by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.
Algebra II Exam

Students need authentic algebra courses, not diluted courses. The challenging, ADP algebra courses and exams would be the same for all students who take Algebra I and II. Students must work hard and study more to achieve the proper levels of mastery. The scores on ADP Algebra I exam translate to Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced, while the Algebra II exam scores translate to Needs Preparation, Prepared, and Well Prepared [for College]. STEM and non-STEM students who need calculus are expected to do much better on the ADP algebra exams: Algebra I ( Advanced) and Algebra II (Well Prepared).