I am frustrated. Testing season just ended, and we’re making plans for next year, and, well, I just think everyone’s priorities are in the wrong places. I know that we have made mistakes in the past (like sticking juniors in algebra I), but I see and believe that the future is an incredible opportunity for change to be made. Please allow to rant about this now, and please read the (boring) previous post that gives some context to why I’m freaking out.
When it comes to decisions at my school, the critical factor considered is, “how will this impact EOC scores?”. EOC stands for end of course test, and there are four given in high school: Algebra I, English I, Biology, and U.S. History. I don’t know all the facts, but I’m assuming that EOC pass rates somehow turn into the basis of state/district funding.
This year, we had a block schedule, meaning four 90-minute blocks per day, and all your classes change at the semester. You might have history, English, music, and driver’s ed in the fall, and then math, science, Spanish, and P.E., in the spring. OH – except for the EOC classes. EOC >>>> everything else. Therefore, EOC classes are year-round. Calculus is a semester class, but Algebra I is year-round. All of chemistry is covered in a semester, but they get a year for biology.
This is particularly problem-creating at a small school like mine, where there are only two history teachers. If we’re sticking all of the junior class in U.S. history year-round, that takes up all possible class offerings for one history teacher. The other three grades are left to the other teacher. Therefore, as you can expect, most freshmen/sophomores take only one semester of history prior to their all-important-history-EOC-year. Therefore, as you can expect, they don’t do so hot on the history EOC. The average score last year was a 66 (uh, out of 100). How can you do well on the U.S. history EOC in 11th grade if the last time you talked about WWII or the Civil War was in 8th grade?
OK: so this problem that I’ve outlined above with history, it’s not just a problem for the history department. It hits hard in science and math. That critical emphasis on STEM? No. You can’t take physics. If in 7th grade someone decides that you’re not smart enough, you can’t take calculus or precalculus when you get to be in 11th or 12th grade. You go from geometry to algebra 2 to probability and statistics. Your chances of doing well on the ACT drop significantly because of a decision that was made for you (probably by someone who doesn’t even teach at the school anymore) when you were 13.
This is something I want to fix. I want everyone to graduate having taken and passed calculus. If you make it the expectation, they’ll meet you there. There’s tons of evidence that proves that it’s not that they can’t do the work academically, it’s that no one makes it an option. My solution is to have regular-tracked students double up on math their sophomore year, taking geometry one semester, and algebra 2 the next.
This gets tricky because, just like with history, we have one math teacher dedicated to teaching *just* algebra I. Therefore, between the other math teacher and myself, we teach every other math course. This just barely worked out this year – we both had 5 preps. I had three last semester, and two this semester. Normal is 1 prep. Tolerable is 2 preps. Death is 3 preps. We only survived because our 5 total preps were spread out over two semesters.
Next year? Oh, we’re switching to an AB schedule. Oh, we’ll have a 50%+ teacher turnover rate. Oh, there’s also talk that in 2016-2017 the high school is closing to become an elementary school. Oh, IT’S A HOT MESS.