Thursday, July 8, 2010

ACSC July 7 Public Comment

Good afternoon.

My name is Jim Burfeind. I am a member of the CMC and I teach 7th and 8th grade math at Ishi Hills Middle School in Oroville,CA. The community I work in is very poor economically, but the team of teachers I work with is strong and we have so far met all our AYP and API goals and have stayed out of PI.

I am really excited about the possibility of having the opportunity to teach the CCS. The carefully focused, but beautiful, flow of ideas is exciting. The sixth grade course is very well designed to lead into the 7th and then into 8th.  After the 6, 7, 8 sequence we should have students very well prepared for the 9th grade Algebra 1 course. The entire K-12 math standards will give students the computational skills they need but more importantly teach them to use mathematical reasoning and how to solve problems.

I work with a PLC that has met every Wednesday for 9 years. Our PLC is very data driven, carefully analyzing our student's performance to find possible improvements. We put lots of effort into differentiating our instruction so students are targeted with the help they need. When we began about 6% of our 8th graders took Algebra 1. We decided to increase that percentage with the important principal that students should take Algebra 1 and succeed the first time.  We measure success in Algebra 1 as scoring at least proficient on the Algebra 1 CST and for many years around 90% of our students have done that. For 2010-2011 we will be up to 40% of our 8th graders in Algebra1, again maintaining the principal that all Algebra 1 students succeed the first time.

It is a terrible disservice to any student to have them take Algebra 1 in 8th grade and fail and then have to take it again in 9th grade when it was known before hand they were almost sure to fail the first time. When we make the decisions about assigning students to 8th grade Algebra 1 we discuss several sources of data on each student including the CSU Algebra Readiness test and 7th grade teacher recommendation.

I mention this because I don't think we can improve the 40% very fast. Setting Algebra 1 as the 8th grade course immediately is not possible for us or the hundreds of schools like us. Only 18% of our 7th and 8th teachers have single subject math credentials. We are still using 10 year old math books because there is no money for new books. Our district is proposing increased class sizes. We had a summer school class at the end of 6th grade for students who needed a little boost to get them to 7th grade level and possibly ready for Algebra 1 in 8th grade and our district ended it for financial reasons. We have increasing numbers of students whose families are in disarray and even substantial numbers of students in foster care.

 My school has stayed out of PI status by the skin of our teeth so putting all of our 8th graders in Algebra 1 will doom us to being added to the list of failing schools.

I think the ACSC should adopt the CCSI standards essentially unchanged. These are excellent standards and provide a well thought out sequence leading to Algebra 1 in ninth grade.  Now what about the question of algebra 1 in 8th grade?

CA currently allows qualified students to take Algebra 1 in seventh or eighth grade and that provision should be continued with the new standards. A strong statement should be included setting the goal of increasing the numbers of students taking Algebra 1 in eighth grade.

One reason we shouldn't rewrite the CCSI standard for 8th grade and turn it into Algebra 1 is it would then be necessary to make substantial changes in the 6th and 7th grade standards to accelerate students enough to be ready for Algebra 1 in 8th grade.

I understand the sentiment that the ACSC should decide on the best standards first without regard to other considerations like funding. On the other hand maybe some have forgotten the staggering amounts of money that would be needed to make Algebra 1 the required 8th grade course.

Jack O'Connell, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, released The California Algebra 1 Success Initiative in 2008.  I have a copy here.

Mr. O'Connell estimated $3.1 billion as the cost of making Algebra 1 the required 8th grade course. This is just not possible, so making Algebra 1 the required course would guarantee that California will fail.

Thank you for listening.

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