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School board considers requiring a third year of high school math

Retired Greenville High Principal Kest Porter, left, listens to comments from Chester High math teacher Shawn Mahaffey who addressed the PUSD school board May 8 about the pros and cons of possibly instituting a graduation requirement to complete a third year of high school math. Photos by Roni Java

“I want our kids to have all the tools they need to be better prepared to get into the California State University and University of California systems,” Chester parent Jerri Nielsen told the Plumas Unified School District’s Governing Board of Trustees at their regular meeting May 8 at Chester Elementary School.

Nielsen thanked the district for making “significant improvements” to the education program at local schools and requested time during the public comment period to present her thoughts about the value of adding a high school graduation requirement to complete a required third year of math.

The topic was up for discussion on the evening’s agenda and not yet at a proposal stage while the trustees and PUSD administrators research options, pros and cons.

Nielsen said PUSD’s current graduation requirements do not match the entrance requirements for admission to CSU or UC campuses that include a requirement of three years of high school math, more foreign language, etc. With one student already a junior in high school within the county and exploring college options, Nielsen would like to see the requirement changed and soon.

“I took my daughter to a huge college fair at in Stockton hosted by the Western Association for College Admission Counseling,” Nielsen added. “There were easily 2,000 kids there talking to college counselors and I would also like to see our district set up a plan to take PUSD kids to this event.”

Teachers favor third math year

The school board had last discussed the possibility of adding a required third year of high school math at its Feb. 13, 2019 meeting. The rationale concerned benefits to students and improved preparedness for college and career.

The trustees had talked about students who take only 2 years of math not being prepared for their first year of college. Generally, it was accepted that students would benefit from an added requirement to take a third year of math at Plumas County’s high schools in Chester, Greenville, Portola and Quincy, but no decisions were undertaken.

Chester Junior-Senior High School math teacher Sean Mahaffey attended the February board meeting to offer his thoughts and experiences on the extra math possibilities for PUSD.

At the May 8 school board meeting, Mahaffey returned to provide feedback from all of the PUSD math teachers he had met with in April on the third-year-of-math proposal.

“We all believe it’s a good idea,” Mahaffey said. “The more math you know, the better off you are and the better you’ll do on our district tests. Math prepares students for what comes after high school.”

Pros/cons of a third year of math

On May 8, Mahaffey talked again about extra math benefitting students who are working to meet their district “A-to-G” requirements for graduation and college entrance.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds to make a change like this and he laid out a few negatives for consideration, too.

– It takes a lot of work outside of class to create a new math course or career technical education (CTE) class, than to prepare to teach the class.

– If a student fails to pass a class, there would be challenges to making it up and still meeting the district’s three-years-of-math requirement.

– Some PUSD teachers worry the district would lose students to other schools without such a requirement.

– Training and supporting teachers, adding sections and buying new textbooks and materials would come with necessary costs to the district.

Mahaffey asked the board if PUSD’s alternative education students would also have a requirement to complete three years of math?

“Overall, the math teachers do support having a third year of math,” he told the school board.

Going forward

Parent Jerri Nielsen asked the PUSD school board on May 8 to consider the advantages of having students take a third year of required high school math. Extra math is vital to many college admissions programs, she said.

The trustees’ discussions have covered a lot of ground on the issue of how or if additional math could or should be required.

For instance, the district might need to offer additional sections of math. Options also include adding career technical education math classes such as an agriculture math class or sections covering consumer, technical, or other areas for students who are not college bound.

In February, Mahaffey mentioned having taught a biometrics class that was directly related to the fish lab at CJSHS. He had suggested a need to offer some courses that are hands-on for general use. Math credit can be assigned to business and finance courses, too. He also said CJSHS had previously built a small house in conjunction with the geometry class.

Programming is another class in which kids could earn math credits, according to the educator. Deductive reasoning is a skill learned from science and math courses.

At that initial meeting, the trustees wondered how they would help all students?

“I’ve had parents approach me about students who are struggling in math,” School Board President Leslie Edlund said at the May meeting. “If we do it right, I’m supportive. I do worry about the increased costs and needs for more class sections.”

Teacher Mahaffey agreed.

“I battle myself that I have students struggling with math,” he said. “Their scores are not a math problem; it’s a school problem. If we do implement a program for this, it would take about two years and it would have to be a districtwide approach. We need to do more to support students’ success with math. For example, kids walk around all day speaking English. They use it everywhere in their lives. We don’t do that with math.”

He added that Chester High has tried to keep students in math classes as long as possible and in the past, intervention courses helped, but that added more courses that required more support.

Wrapping up the May board discussion, Trustee Traci Holt said she absolutely supports putting more “tools” into students’ toolboxes (of learning).

“We as a board need to look at and approach this as a district,” Holt said. “I’d love to see more math (in our offerings) but we don’t have all the answers. We need a roadmap of what it would look like before we say yes, we’re going to require a third year of math. And it’s very important for us to hear from our site administrators. Every school is different.”

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