Four years ago, the NS math department implemented a policy in an effort to improve overall understanding and performance throughout the school. The policy requires any student who fails two quarters of math to retake the entire year before moving on to the next math class. In addition, if any student fails three semesters of math, he is moved to Odysseyware, an online math program.
“The policy was created to make sure that kids aren’t passed on to a higher level if they don’t have the background,” math teacher John Sadler said.
The math department felt that if students couldn’t perform well in Math I or II, letting them advance would be, in essence, setting them up for more failure.
The teachers also feel it is pointless for students to take, and fail, the same math class year after year, which is why the second part of the policy was put into effect.
“If kids are consistently failing,” Sadler said, “then the classroom setting is obviously not working. Odysseyware provides a way for them to learn at their own pace.”
However, 88% of students who participate in Odysseyware rate the level of difficulty above 5/10, and 78% rate the quality of instruction below 5/10. These numbers demonstrate that online math is not as effective or as helpful as the math department had hoped.
“The instruction for Odysseyware is awful,” senior Danielle Wilson said, “because we have to teach ourselves by reading the lesson, instead of having it explained.”
Wilson thinks that some of the students who fail math are just lazy, but some of them really struggle learning that quickly. The online lessons can’t adapt for individual students, which makes it even harder to understand.
“Online math is difficult,” counselor Ben Cox said, “but at the same time, those students essentially gave up the right to have an instructor by not performing well with that option.” The school provides math labs every day, with tutors and teachers to help students who attend.
Wilson is also frustrated with the online program because of the time it consumes. Even with the math tutors’ help, the assignments take twice as long as they did before.
“It takes me so long to understand the lessons,” Wilson said. “I’m further behind than I would be if I had stayed in a regular math class.” Students who should be graduating are held back because they were forced to teach themselves math, and couldn’t complete it in time.
There is an alternative for struggling math students. If a student, his parent, or his teacher requests it, he will be put in a Math Tier 3 class. In these classes, students are given the whole class period to work with other students, as well as their math teacher, on their homework. They also help each other understand concepts that are taught in class.
“The tier class made a big difference for my grade,” sophomore Daniel Zobell said. “I could move at my own pace, and I understood it better.”
Wilson agrees that tier classes are a more effective way to help students before they have to use Odysseyware.
“[The tier classes] gives students the time they need to understand the material, and stay caught up,” Sadler said.
On the other hand, these classes could just as easily be another class period wasted. It depends on the student, and if they are willing to put forth the effort.
“Although there are some difficult circumstances, it is ultimately up to the student to decide whether to be successful or not,” Cox said.
The question remains, however, if this policy has had the desired effect. The common core was applied the same year, so any change in math performance could very well be a result of the core curriculum more than the policy.