Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Middle School Math

In reviewing blog posts from last year, I can only guess that the reason I didn't record my fight with the school district for an adequate math class was because I was a woman suffering from policy whiplash and administrator induced PTSD. But as I sit on the other end of the year, I think it's worth putting down on these archives. If nothing else, Connor can read it later and know that I did my part, and eventually, the school system did its part as well.

Connor had amazing first and second grade teachers. They moved right along with him and when he needed a challenge, they handed it to him. Third grade crushed Connor's and my soul. By fourth grade, he had a set of teachers that cared but, after the school year ended and I talked with them (after having met with them multiple times over the course of the year), they told me that they knew they had failed Connor. The strategy is to teach to the middle, go pick up the students who are struggling, and then turn to the kids who are bored. The strategy, almost always leaves nothing for the kids seeking enrichment. Typically, it meant a packet of work with no explanation or assistance. Fifth grade, he had a teacher who was quite impressive, but in the end, just couldn't give him what he needed.

At the end of 5th grade, students in my school system take the Math Inventory (MI - formerly the SMI). The math inventory, coupled with the end-of-year tests are used to determine a student's math placement in middle school. Connor's score indicated he was ready for geometry. That's an 8th or 9th grade class in our school system (on the advanced track).

The school system assigned him math 7 for 6th graders. That class is two full years below where Connor tested. I talked with the gifted facilitator (not helpful). I talked with the math teacher (she was supportive of anything to get Connor into a better class, knowing he was facing boredom and knowing how bad that can be for everyone involved). I had meetings with the assistant superintendent of instruction for math. And, after our first meeting, she told me Connor could be skipped ahead an entire grade level (which I rejected) or she would get the principal at the middle school to put him in algebra, so one level below geometry. This was what I wanted, so I was happy with that. Present at the meeting were the math department head and the head of middle school math.

The assistant superintendent retired, the  principal balked, so I started down the path of talking with the middle school math coach and the math department head. They were unrelenting. We had more conversations than I care to recall, and with each one, I sensed time slipping right through my hands.

And then, the math coach proffered a compromise. She would take the top 20 or so students based on their MI scores (at least 1100), CoGAT scores (at least 130), and state test scores (these last tests are useless because every child in the class scored 100 percent on them). She'd stick them in the same room. The class would be called Math 7 for 6th graders, but she guaranteed the content would be rich and Connor would not be bored.

With a lot of skepticism, I relented, crossed my fingers and said a quick prayer to St. Anthony. I met with the teacher of the class and the math coach outside of conferences once, and I had a rough patch of email with the teacher which ended in Connor telling her "my mom said not to send this stupid stuff home to me". (For the record, he at least cleaned up my language, but I thought he wouldn't bother repeating the sentiment. The prior evening, as he had done for about a week, he handed me his iPad because this ridiculously easy program wasn't working. I couldn't get the stupid program to work again and I said "take this piece of sh*t back to your teacher and tell her not to ever send it back home with you".) By the time I emailed the teacher the following day, she'd already had the exchange with Connor, and the program never came home again.

But guess what? Once the class got on track, it provided an actual challenge to Connor. The school system kept its word. No one could be more please than I when Connor brought home is new MI score. He came home with a score indicating he had not just advanced "one academic year" - the stated goal of the school system, he had advanced 2 academic years. Which means he now owns a score indicating he is proficient in 12th grade math (the test considers geometry to be a 10th grade class - so he's now two academic years farther along than he was at the end of last year).

This is a miracle. I am grateful. Connor lit up when I told him how much progress he has made. It provides the perfect reason for WHY you challenge kids. I would say Connor was interested in the class about 60 percent of the time, which is light years ahead of where he's been the past several years. It is also about the level a math coach told me he needed to be at to stay interested in math.

Last I talked to the math teacher, she wanted to keep the students together for another year, but it's not guaranteed. Added to the fact that a new principal starts in July, I already know what I'll be spending July and August doing. Because I cannot handle going backwards and watching Connor sit in a class next year bored out of his mind. I need that class to keep going for my sanity, as does Connor.

Bur for now, I am really grateful the compromise worked out. One year of middle school math is in the books!


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