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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Immorality of Algebra 1A

From an educator

Let me start by saying that I hate writing anonymously. Unfortunately, my concern is that this post could be somehow held against me. I love my job. I love the people I work with and the students we serve. I just can’t do anything that might jeopardize what I feel is my life’s calling. I come from a long line of public educators. We work at every level…in the classroom, as interventionists, coaches, regular ed, special ed, administrators, and as district coordinators. My children go to a public school in Duval. We make them ride the bus. It’s good for them. It’s one of the thousand ways we are “public education strong.”    

I’ve taught students from Fletcher to Westside, even downtown, from sixth grade to twelve. Under old and new evaluation systems I’ve been measured highly effective. I’m not a malcontent. I don’t spend time complaining in the teacher’s lounge. I’ve survived this long by knowing that what I dislike in public education is usually gone in a few years. So I keep my head down, stay positive and do my best for kids. But now, something has reared its head that I can’t stay quiet about. Its the new DCPS scheduling guidelines that place high school students in a middle school course called “Algebra 1A.”

            Historically, the latest a student will take Algebra 1 for the first time is 9th grade. On January 19th, as an administrator for a large math department, I received an email from Addison Davis. It laid out guidelines to move any student that was at risk of failing Algebra 1 into what is traditionally a middle school course called Algebra 1A. Here’s an excerpt from that email:

“In analyzing the Algebra 1 /Algebra II mid-year performance, there is a need to change a number of student schedules to Algebra IA/LAM II for the second semester.  This will allow our students to strengthen their understanding and confidence in Algebra in order to complete high school graduation requirements.

All recommended schedule changes will be based on student’s performance data on the mid-year scrimmage state assessment exam (below 25% percent of questions answered correctly) and their current academic status in Algebra 1/Algebra II  (“D” or “F” in the class).”

There were several problems with the above guidelines and reasoning. The first major problem is that the district average score on the “mid-year scrimmage” was 23.7% (session 1) and 35.8% (session 2)! Out of the 6969 DCPS students who took Session 1 of the Algebra mid-year scrimmage, only 13 scored proficient. 13!!! I don’t flaunt my Master’s degree in Education, but I know enough to know that the scrimmage was not a valid test. It should not be used for decision-making. The second problem was that the students moved to Algebra 1A were really not moved at all. No, they were left in their same Algebra 1 classes. Same teacher, no additional support, no added technology or resources. On the surface, nothing was different. It was just an electronic scheduling change that added an “A” behind Algebra 1.

The third problem was that the only explanation the district gave to students and parents was a simple “opt-out” letter. A parent could “opt out” of the move if they contacted the school. The letter advocated the benefits of moving the student to Algebra 1A, but left out the one serious implication. Any student moved into Algebra 1A would not receive an Algebra 1 credit. The student would have to repeat Algebra 1 the next year. Many on our school board champion “choice.” It’s become quite the buzzword. Where was the parent or student given a real choice here? They weren’t.  There were more than 800 students and parents that were affected by this change. Not a single parent asked us in January to “opt out.”

Then last week, a mother called my office and confirmed my own guilt and fear. She wanted to know why her daughter wasn’t taking the Algebra 1 FSA. I explained to her that her daughter wasn’t taking the test because she was moved into Algebra 1A. The mother’s reaction? “When did that happen?” She never received the letter. I serve primarily at-risk students. Regardless, any educator knows that most students who receive letters to take home, just don’t do it. Shoot, my children don’t even bring home their report cards without a fight and they get A’s! The conversation with the mom hit home for me. How many of these parents realize that their student was essentially retained mid-year without them being allowed a voice in that decision?

I had hoped that this would all go away, but our new Master Schedule guidelines make it clear that Algebra 1A is here to stay. In fact, it’s about to get worse and is why I finally decided to write this. The guidelines for which students should be placed in Algebra 1A state: “Successfully completed Pre-Algebra in 8th grade and scored Levels 1 and 2 on the 8th Grade Math FSA.” Historically, more than 50% of the students that take this 8th grade test will score a Level 1 or 2. Let’s put that in perspective. That means that next year, as many as 3000 students will be placed in Algebra 1A at the high school level. 3000!!!

Again, it’s a middle school course. An “acceleration course.” An elective. It doesn’t meet graduation requirements. It means that a student doesn’t even take Algebra 1 for the first time until 10th grade. It means that the results of 1 test in the 8th grade will determine whether or not a student will likely take an advanced math course above Algebra 2. These courses are solid predictor of whether a not a student goes to college and has success there.

Even if they had straight A’s in Pre-Algebra we have to place them in 1A. What if the student had a bad day? What if they had problems at home? What if they forgot their glasses? What if they weren’t feeling well? What if they had an ineffective teacher or permanent sub? The district is essentially deciding the fate of a student. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re back to tracking kids. We know which groups will be overrepresented in these Algebra 1A courses. It won’t be kids going to Stanton. It will be kids in our Title 1 schools.

There will be no “opt-out” letter this time. Parents will NOT be given a choice. No, instead we will be creating an entire group of students who were just retained 1 year without knowing it. Why? Who is behind this? It’s not your teachers or administrators. I don’t know one who supports the decision and I’ve asked many. It’s not District HS math. They have made it very clear that it wasn’t their idea. So why? It’s simple. It’s about artificially boosting FSA test passing proficiencies. It means that DCPS leadership can almost remove the lowest 25% from testing on the Algebra 1 FSA each year. It’s about numbers on a spreadsheet, school grades and gold stars on DCPS leadership’s resume. It’s not about kids. That’s what makes it immoral.

If it were about helping kids be more successful in Algebra 1, the district would have ensured that a High school student has Algebra 1 every day, not every other day due to block scheduling. Most of the kids that don’t pass the Algebra 1 FSA ever pass it. Instead they earn a comparative score on tests like PERT. So please don’t say its about helping boost student’s confidence and making them better prepared. It’s not. None of us who actually work with these students believe that.

Let me finish by saying thanks for reading. Maybe I will write again about what they did/are doing with Algebra 2. For now, please, please help me do something about this. I don’t know what that might be. Email your school board member? Make sure your school counseling office calls the parent of any student who might be placed in Algebra 1A and help them realize why this is a bad thing? Go to a school board meeting and say something? Email Dr. Vitti’s office? Demand that Algebra 1A stay in Middle School where it belongs? I wish I could do those things. I’ve voiced my dissent in January and again with the new guidelines but it is apparent that our dissent doesn’t matter. And I love my job. Unfortunately, I can only push so far without being fearful of repercussions.


Math Admin


  1. Great. Clay county can have the guy

  2. I think back in my day they called it Applied Mathematics

  3. There is also another group of students affected. All of our kids taking algebra 2 were also moved based on their scrimmage scores. They were moved to LAM. This is a real issue because LAM is not an NCAA approved course. I am a guidance counselor and we raised concerns about this. We were basically told to drop it. Try having that conversation with the parent of a student athlete.

  4. My son's friend went to take the Algebra 1 EOC and they told her she is not taking it. I had her check her schedule and it said 1A. She had no idea she was not in Alg. 1 anymore. What is to be done about this?