Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Case for Challenging High School Math Classes

In the academic world of mathematics, Algebra 1 is usually considered a 9th grade course. Geometry is usually taken in 10th grade, Algebra 2 is generally for juniors, and PreCalculus (or Trigonometry or Advanced Math or Discrete Math or Statistics or Calculus) is considered a course for high school seniors.

Most state standards now recommend at least three years of high school math. Those three years are, at a minimum, Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2. Courses with titles like General Math, Business Math, PreAlgebra, Consumer Math, Career Math, or Applied Math are probably low-level math courses and do not fulfill the state standard.

If a student takes those low-level math classes, they will not be prepared for college. Many students find themselves in college having to take remedial math courses. They do not get college credit for them, but still have to pay college prices for them. Once they get through the remedial courses, they are then ready for College Algebra. How much better it would be for them to take the challenging classes in high school in order to be ready for College Algebra as soon as they enter college.

Students should keep in mind that if they graduate from high school having only taken Algebra 1 as their highest level math course, they really only have the equivalent of a 9th grade education in mathematics. Those taking only PreAlgebra are graduating at the 7th or 8th grade level.

Every student planning to go to college should also take a challenging math course during their senior year. I had some students who were able to take PreCalculus their junior year. Then they chose not to take any math their senior year. Once in college, they made it through College Algebra, but they struggled. Having been away from it for even one year made it difficult for them. Students with fewer mathematical skills, who opt out of math their senior year, will have even more difficulties in college.

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