Guest Blog: Why Four Years of Math Matters
Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., President, Arizona Mathematics Leaders
Suzi Mast, President-Elect, Arizona Association of Teachers of Mathematics
We’ve heard it said that we study poetry in school because we want to develop a love and command of language, not because everyone will someday be a poet. The same can be said of mathematics. We study math because we want to develop an appreciation for and command of mathematical thinking among all students. Providing students with excellent opportunities to engage in mathematical thinking, especially in the areas of problem-solving and reasoning, can make an impact for decades to come.
Since 2013, Arizona high-school graduates have been required to complete four years of mathematics instruction, providing opportunities to develop the habits of mind and problem-solving capacity afforded through the study of math. Currently, the Arizona legislature is considering changes to the mathematics opportunities expected for our high school graduation requirements.
The current proposed legislation, specifically HB2278, seeks to reduce the number of math credits required for high-school graduation from four credits to three. Furthermore, it requires that all students take Algebra I, Geometry, and a third mathematics course from a variety of options. There are three issues at stake that should be addressed:
- By reducing the number of math credits required for high-school graduation, we decrease the rigor and preparedness students need to be successful in pursuing their post-high-school aspirations.
- The current high school graduation requirements already state that “the algebra II requirement may be met by a math course comparable to algebra II course content or computer science, career and technical education and vocational education, economics, science and arts courses as determined by the local school district governing board or charter school.” Therefore, the provisions in HB2278 are redundant since there is already provision for alternatives to Algebra II.
- By removing the Algebra II as a requirement, students who are college bound or who become college bound later in their high school trajectories may miss their opportunity to take the coursework (e.g., Algebra II) necessary to meet the current minimum college entrance expectations currently outlined by the Arizona Board of Regents. Again, alternative pathways exist for those who want or need other options (see #2, above).
Increased Graduation Requirements Led to Increased Graduation Rates. In 2009, the State Board of Education increased high school graduation requirements to include a fourth credit of mathematics beginning with the freshman class of 2013. This amended section stated that the additional fourth credit of math would include Algebra II or course content that was equivalent to Algebra II. Some believed that this change from three to four credits of mathematics had the potential to negatively affect Arizona’s high school graduation rates. However, even with a change to include Algebra II, there was actually an increase in graduation rates the same year this change to four credits of math was required.
Graduation rates reflect that 1) not only an increase in the number of mathematics credits required to graduate from high school did not have a negative effect on graduation rates, but, also, 2) the increased level of rigor/depth of thinking required by students to graduate with the adoption and implementation of new mathematics standards in 2011 did not have a negative effect on graduation rates.
STEM pathway includes Algebra II (current pathway). The current high school math pathway can be considered a STEM pathway for students who want to pursue a STEM-related career, with Algebra II as a prerequisite for Calculus. This pathway must remain available to all students if Arizona wants to continue building an innovative economy and ensure we have enough healthcare workers. Students with Algebra II credit in high school begin their higher education pathway starting with a math credit-bearing course which could be Calculus. This pathway must remain for students who want to be able to pursue college or a career in a STEM field.
Personal Curriculum – Ensuring all students are successful in high school mathematics. The Arizona State Board of Education took into consideration that “all” students might not be able to succeed at Algebra II. This consideration is shown through the development of Personal Curriculum provided for in R7-2-302.3. The Personal Curriculum allows a team, including the student, to design a pathway to ensure that the student is not only successful at mathematics but completes a math course as a senior.
A Change in Math Requirements Could Impact the Number of Students Going to a University. A decrease in the credits of mathematics required for all Arizona students to graduate would have a negative effect on admissions to Arizona Universities. Students who are college-bound or who become college-bound later in their high school trajectories may miss their opportunity to take the coursework (e.g., Algebra II) necessary to meet minimum college entrance expectations as outlined by the Arizona Board of Regents. This will limit opportunity for some students to pursue a college education. It could also lead to greater remediation in college, which adds more cost and time for students to reach a degree.
All students should take four years of math. As part of Arizona’s mathematics organizations and education advocates, we believe that:
- All students can be successful in rigorous high school mathematics.
- Increased mathematics coursework and rigor do not negatively impact graduation rates.
- The current requirements sets students up for entrance into Arizona universities as well as other post-high-school aspirations.
Therefore, we strongly believe that Arizona ought to maintain the mathematics requirements as they currently exist by requiring four years of mathematics study for all students, including an Algebra II requirement for all college-bound or potentially college-bound students.
As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, we desire to see that all of Arizona’s students gain access to high-quality mathematics courses that develop an appreciation for and command of mathematical thinking among all students. Providing students with excellent opportunities to engage in mathematical thinking, especially in the areas of problem-solving and reasoning, will make an impact for decades to come.
Kim Rimbey is President of Arizona Mathematics Leaders (AML) and Advocacy Chair for the Arizona Association of Teachers of Mathematics (AATM). Kim currently serves as the Chief Learning Officer for KP Mathematics and the Director of Mathematics for Buckeye Elementary School District.
Suzi Mast is Vice President of the Central Region for AML and is President-Elect for AATM. Suzi is a proud Arizona certified teacher and administrator with 30 years in the classroom and leading mathematics education in her role as the Director of K-12 Mathematics and Ed. Tech at the Arizona Department of Education.
Arizona Mathematics Leaders (AML) and the Arizona Association of Teachers of Mathematics (AATM) support math teachers and leaders across the state through networking opportunities, book studies, regional and state conferences and monthly communications regarding mathematics teaching and learning.