Should your Child Enroll in the Accelerated Math Class

Jan 25, 2024 | Littleton

Children entering middle school and high school are usually placed on an educational track for each subject based on test scores and previous academic performance. In many schools, there is a lot of pressure to be on the "advanced" track. Parents have some influence on where their child is placed. Unfortunately, many parents (possibly wrongly) are pushing their children to take the advanced math path thinking they are doing them a favor or setting them up for college.

Many Choices on the Educational Journey
School counselors and politicians like to use words like “college bound” and “college preparatory” to describe the secondary courses designed to help students get into a four year university. These terms might lead a parent to believe that there is only one path to get into college, and if you don’t get your children on this path by 6th or 7th grade, they are destined to work in a low paying job for the rest of their lives. Many parents forget the purpose of high school isn’t just to get into college, it’s to educate.

If your children are not ready for an accelerated math course, it does not shut down their opportunity to go to college. See our article, Is Your Child Math Ready for College. Even some children who were on the college track end up not prepared for their college level courses. In fact, 68% of freshman entering the California State University system needed to take remedial classes in math and/or English. This is a system of colleges, such as Cal Poly, that have fairly strict entrance requirements. There are several big disadvantages to taking remedial courses at the college level. Students enrolled in remedial courses have to pay college tuition prices for content they should have learned in high school. Additionally, remedial college courses typically do not count toward graduation requirements. Even worse, remedial students are at a greater risk for not graduating at all, compared with those who aren’t required to take remedial courses.

Perhaps, if the students had taken the appropriate level math class, at the appropriate time, they would have understood the material and not have needed to take a remedial course in college. Parents, educators and politicians who focus solely on helping a child get on the college prep track are taking a short term view of education.

Middle School and High School Students Should be in the Math Class Meeting Their Current Educational Needs
For a student to feel confident in a math class, both the pace and the level of the content must be a good fit for the child. Read What kind of Math Learner is Your Child? for more information on matching a child to the appropriate learning environment.

An accelerated math program progresses quickly and gives less time for guided practice. It likely has more homework than traditional math classes. If your child already shows signs of struggling or frustration, DO NOT put added pressure on them to enroll in advanced math. Taking traditional math courses, or even remedial courses, at the proper instructional level sets them up for success later.

Think of it like learning to swim. Throwing a swimmer into the open ocean before she is ready doesn’t make her a surfer. It makes her panic and she will probably avoid swimming again. The same principle applies to math classes. Ultimately, great work habits and solid math skills are much more important than the name of the math class. Students studying appropriate math material at the appropriate pace will be set up for success.

Don’t 8th Graders have to Take Algebra to be Ready to Take Calculus as a Senior?
Not necessarily. See the article, Algebra Too Soon. In fact, Erik Hanushek from Stanford University strongly cautions against taking algebra too early because algebra lays the foundation for the rest of the higher math courses. Having a weak foundation in algebra negatively affects a student’s ability to succeed in higher math courses.

The recent adoption of Common Core Math Standards dramatically changed the curriculum in both accelerated math courses and traditional math courses.

Since the math classes changed in 2014, you can’t assume what was appropriate for an older brother or sister will still be appropriate now. Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education states, “Under the new standards, it’s likely fewer students than before will end up taking an accelerated course in middle school, and that’s appropriate."  See this edsourece article about the debate on accelerated math.

Most high schools have a way for students to get to calculus as a senior even if the student doesn’t start algebra until freshman year. Many selective universities look for students who take math 4 years in high school, but it doesn’t necessarily have to include calculus. And many fields except possibly engineering require a strong background in statistics, so an advanced stats track might be appropriate depending on what career your student is thinking of pursuing. If you are unsure about calculus, be sure to read the article, Calculus is the Peak of High School Math Maybe it's Time to Change That. Want to get your younger child ready for calculus in high school? Start in second grade!

Who Should Enroll into Accelerated Math Classes?
Only about 20% of children are prepared for accelerated math classes. Not only do students considering accelerated math need a solid grasp on elementary math (numerical fluency, wholes & parts, proportional reasoning and number sense), they also need to be responsible enough to handle the extra workload.

Bring your child to Mathnasium of Littleton for a comprehensive no obligation math assessment to see if they are at or above grade level. We can help you determine if an accelerated math class is appropriate for your child or help get them set up to succeed in an advanced math class. The sooner the better, for the confidence and long-term success of your child. This article will give you an idea of some K-6th grade level expectations.

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