Math pathways inflict confusion on students

The Burlingame math pathway is perhaps the most complicated of any of the school’s departments. Students have many different options when considering the math classes they can take throughout high school, which reflects the varying levels of difficulty in the subject. Unlike some other subjects, math builds onto itself year after year. It is impossible to move on successfully without understanding what you have already learned. 

In recent years, the implementation of Common Core has shifted the math pathway significantly. This shift has caused confusion amongst students, as there have been problems and nuisances for everyone involved. 

When Common Core standards were put into place at Burlingame Intermediate School in 2016, they emphasized a goal that everyone should start high school in Algebra I. Prior to the Common Core standards, Burlingame Intermediate School students had been taking Algebra I or even Geometry in eighth grade if they were in the advanced Math program. After Common Core standards were implemented, students entering Burlingame High School were pushed back a year in math. Many parents were upset that their children who were not on the advanced Math track would no longer be able to take Calculus by graduation.

“Taking Calculus by senior year helps you if you want to be a math major or a science major in college,” sophomore Evan Jones said. “It is important for colleges to see that you are able to do math at a high level and that it is something you are interested in.”

Jones is one of the sophomores that began the accelerated track this year after starting in Algebra I as a freshman. The accelerated program offers three years of math taught in just two years, and as a result it is very fast-paced. It is not for everyone. The primary incentive to take it is to have calculus on your high school transcript, but this mostly only applies to people going into STEM fields. The accelerated program is a pilot, and the school is currently deciding its permanence. 

“We haven’t completed a full cycle of the program yet, but [Burlingame High School] and [Aragon High School] are gathering data about how the program is going so far,” said Erik Bennett, co-chair of the Math department. 

The standard path for entering students is first Algebra I, Geometry and then Algebra II courses which many agree are too easy. The other option is to take an accelerated class which isn’t suitable for most students. It is also possible to take Geometry over the summer, although counselor Karen Latham does not recommend this option, as it means completing an entire year of math in a window of a few weeks’ time. The school has tried to avoid this dilemma by implementing the accelerated track, but this solution comes with problems of its own. 

The accelerated track is doing the best it can to teach three years of math in four semesters, but this is not an easy feat. Some topics have been left out due to time constraints. For example, the second-year accelerated students recently learned trigonometric functions for the first time, while sophomores who are not on the accelerated track have been covering sine, cosine and tangent over multiple years. 

In addition, only students from Burlingame Intermediate School were told about the accelerated track before high school. 

“I think they should have told people from OLA [Our Lady of Angels] about the accelerated math program and Crocker also, because a lot of us would’ve taken it if we’d known,” said sophomore and OLA graduate Anna Bronzini.

A final concern is that the advanced track is not yet approved by the UC/CSU schools. Students are worried that colleges won’t know they took more challenging classes because they will not show up on transcripts as accelerated. Counselors are working to fix this process. The future of the accelerated class may change in coming years. After a significant number of students go into Calculus with the completion of the accelerated track, the school will be able to know more about the program’s level of success. Right now, the math pathways are in a messy area of transition, and they have been so for multiple years. The school is doing its best, but Common Core is a flawed concept that has caused obstacles for most students. 

Posted on May 3, 2018 .