It looks like the state of Virginia will be abolishing accelerated math classes for students before 11th grade in a move to “improve equity.”
According to a Fox News report, Loudoun County school board member Ian Serotkin said the Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative will “eliminate ALL math acceleration prior to 11th grade.”
Though conceding the VMPI has “some noble goals,” Serotkin posted on Facebook that there doesn’t “appear to be any discretion in how local districts implement this.”
He added “Only in 11th and 12th grade is there any opportunity for choice in higher math courses.”
According to the VMPI, students in grades K-7 will take “Foundational Mathematics Concepts,” while grades 8-10 will study “Essential Mathematics Concepts.”
The initiative’s “goals and desired outcomes” include “Improv[ing] equity in mathematics learning opportunities” and “Empower[ing] students to be active participants in a quantitative world.”
A member of the initiative’s grade 8-10 committee had noted in a webinar that traditional algebra and geometry courses will be gone. However, (the new) courses “wouldn’t eliminate algebraic ideas but rather interweave multiple strands of mathematics throughout.”
MORE: Opposition to ‘equity’ programs described as white ‘backlash’
Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle played up the notion of “differentiated instruction” in the initiative, the idea that a teacher will “cater to the learning needs of each child.” He did not respond to Fox News’ query about concerns the initiative would “hold kinds back.”
In a lengthy statement to Fox News, Pyle touted the changes as an avenue to “deeper learning.”
“For many years, parents and the system have valued and rewarded speed via acceleration and ‘covering content’ rather than depth of understanding. The Virginia Mathematics Pathway Initiative shifts to a focus on and value for deeper learning through differentiated instruction on grade level that will promote student development of critical thinking, authentic application and problem solving skills,” Pyle said.
Pyle added that VMPI “aims to support increased differentiated learning opportunities within a heterogeneous learning environment, that will promote greater access to advanced mathematical learning for all students before high school graduation.
“Shifting to deeper learning through differentiated instruction, implementation of VMPI will promote student development of critical thinking, authentic application and problem solving skills.
“Offering an inclusive learning environment that engages and challenges students of varied levels of understanding and different interests will be a focus of the common mathematics pathways proposed in grades K-10 …
The problem with “differentiated learning opportunities within a heterogeneous learning environment,” according to former education professor James Delisle, is that for the teacher it is more difficult “than it is to juggle with one arm tied behind your back.”
Delisle pointed to a report in Education Week which noted “In every case, D.I. seemed to complicate teachers’ work, requiring them to procure and assemble multiple sets of materials, … and it dumbed down instruction.”
In addition, a 2008 study found 83 percent of U.S. teachers said D.I. was “somewhat” or “very” difficult to implement.
News of the new math initiative comes as Virginia ponders another “equity”-based idea — that of ditching advanced diplomas. If implemented, the move would disproportionately affect Asian students, who make up almost 80 percent of advanced diploma recipients.
UPDATE: The Virginia Department of Education recently disputed news reports (and Serotkin’s interpretation) of the VMPI. Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said at a news conference that stories about the lack of “advanced coursework” are not “an accurate representation of the discussions that have been happening.”
Said Lane: “Absolutely acceleration is not going away in mathematics courses in Virginia. If a student needs an accelerated pathway, they will absolutely be able to do that.” Executive Director of Communications Ken Blackstone told The Fix that indeed advanced courses would be available prior to 11th grade, and that students would not have to rely on teachers’ “differentiated instruction” in heterogenous ability-level settings.
Of note: Serotkin said the “new information” released by the VDOE “alleviate[d] much of the concern” he had had. However, he did note that information about the VMPI on the VDOE website had changed recently; the previous version of the page in question “made clear that the VDOE wanted to take away advanced math coursework,” he said. The old version cited a study titled “Closing the Opportunity Gap: A Call for Detracking Mathematics,” but the new version notes cited studies “do not reflect [the] views” of the VDOE.
MORE: Boston Public Schools suspend advanced academic program b/c ‘equity’
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