Math Curriculum changes put to the test

Math Curriculum changes put to the test

Tom Ashkenazi

Three quarters have passed since the math department launched a series of reforms to its curriculum. Yet as the third quarter comes to a close, issues such as cumulative test taking, grade inflation and class alignment continue to cause tension.

This was the first year Mountain View High School’s math department experimented with the idea of cumulative chapter tests.  Aiming to improve retention of information, MVHS teachers devised a system in which regular chapter tests review the previously taught material and are used to replace previous test grades. These tests contain more content, thus making them longer.

Sarah Good, an Algebra II Honors teacher and department head, said that while “tests are longer and harder,” she likes that the “replacement is built in.”

Brian Perryman, an Algebra II teacher was less optimistic about the new policy, “The jury is still out for me…I don’t like the size of tests…[cumulative tests] have made it more difficult to study, [and] students are being held accountable for more information.”  Perryman suggested that these cumulative tests won’t solve the age-old issue of retention, and “ will always be a problem.”

The relative freedom to replace lower test grades under the new system also raised quite a few eyebrows in the Math Department. Many teachers feared that it would cause grade inflation. Good responded that while revisions make math classes “definitely harder to fail” she sees no evidence of grade inflation. “My average grade this year is lower…[evidence of grade inflation] is probably caused by their individual method of grading.”

Perryman added that while “I’ve given out a few grades that were inaccurate…I’m not so sure I’m seeing grade inflation.”

Another continuing issue is the idea of class alignment. The new system highlights the importance of aligning curriculum between the varying math classes, and as good said,

“honors classes have the same grade structures…they have more flexibility in the testing procedure.” Good reported that while classes are “much closer together now than they ever were in the past,” there is always room for improvement and that they “will have to be in closer alignment.”

Reforms will always challenge us adapt to a new reality, “we as teachers have all developed routines that we think are the best,” Good said. Now as teachers are adapting to the new system, it will be difficult to tell if progress has been made in cumulative tests, grade inflation and class alignment. As Perryman said, “We won’t really know until next year.”