Math @ BHS
Parents are interested in math at BHS for a variety of reasons and the PTSA is involved in many capacities.
Parent Math Discussions
PTSA Math Discussion Nights in 2017, 2018, 2019, & 2020
identified the following parental concerns About Math 1-2-3
Many students who did well with Eureka Math in middle school struggle at BHS
Most students who struggled with math in middle school never catch up at BHS
There are deficits in the Math 1-2-3 Math Vision Project curriculum
There is no textbook, math concepts are not clearly labeled
The examples provided in the module units are insufficient
New concepts presume mastery of past concepts without any review
There’s not enough context for students to find videos on their own
Classroom policies are teacher specific
Some teachers allow re-test and/or test correction, others do not
The weight of class participation, tests, and homework varies in grading
Most emphasize learning in groups versus from the teacher
No one corrects homework so students can’t learn from their mistakes
Some let students see and keep their tests, some do not
Students who fail math might succeed with a different teacher
Most but not all teachers use the same final exams
There is no way to measure the math proficiency of BHS students
As mentioned above, grading policies are teacher specific
Final exam scores are not aggregated in a database for District committee review (ex LCAP PAC)
The State’s Standards Based Achievement (SBA) test is only taken in 11th grade
Class of 2021 did not take SBA, the class of 2022 may not.
Equity issues are obvious
Prior to distance learning not all students had internet access
Approximately 50% of past PTA Discussion night parent attendees hire private tutors
Attending after school tutoring is not an option for many students
Although parents have shared and voiced these concerns, nothing has been done
The District and BHS Administration cannot dictate uniform classroom policies
Dropping the MVP curriculum is not on BHS’s or the School Board’s agenda
Participants in the November 2020 Math Discussion night discussed ongoing concerns and surfaced new facets of how distance learning complicates how math is taught and exacerbates how students struggle.
The Big Picture of Math at BHS
The Common Core & Integrated Math
To understand math instruction and the nature of issues around math at Berkeley High, one needs to understand the larger context of the Common Core math standards and the Integrated Math vs Traditional Math curriculum.
Many parents interested in math instruction already have some familiarity with the Common Core, a national set of educational standards established in 2010. The intent of Common Core math standards is to increase the rigor and quality of US math education by pushing students to understand math on a deeper level. This is accomplished by challenging them to dig into the reasoning behind a math problem versus just getting the right answer. BUSD implemented Common Core math in its elementary schools in the 2013-14 school year. At this time, of Berkeley High’s students in the 2020-21 school year, the senior class was in 5th grade, juniors were in 4th, and so on such that the incoming 9th graders in the 2021-22 school year will have had Common Core math since 1st grade. Has having had Common Core math all along fostered a greater understanding of math in this cohort? It’s a big question and we’re not close to having an answer for a number of reasons, the most significant one being that Berkeley High does not have any universally administered measure of its students’ math proficiency.
The Common Core provides two pathways for teaching high school math: a traditional sequence and an integrated sequence. The Common Core standards were implemented at BHS in the 2015-16 and at the same time BHS adopted the “Integrated Math” approach to teaching math. In contrast to the “traditional” high school progression of algebra, geometry, and algebra 2, Integrated Math is taught in a 3 year series: Math 1, Math 2, and Math 3. All years cover topics in algebra, geometry, trigonometry and statistics. The intent of Integrated Math is to strengthen problem-solving and reasoning by having students explore the relationships among algebraic, geometric, and statistical concepts by challenging them to solve math tasks versus mastering algorithms by rote. Berkeley High provides a regular and advanced integrated math series; both use the same curriculum; the difference between them is that advanced math covers more modules within the curriculum.
The State measures students’ mastery of the Common Core standards in public schools with its Smarter Balanced Achievement (SBA) testing program. SBA tests are taken at the end of the school year in grades 3 through 8, but only 1 time in high school at the end of 11th grade. BUSD adopted SBA testing in 2014-15, the year after BUSD implemented the Common Core in its elementary and middle schools. The initial year of SBA testing was particularly difficult because most of the SBA is a keyboarded test. At this time most school sites had just a few Chromebooks carts shared by all, and many young students needed to acquire keyboarding skills. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT), Berkeley’s teachers’ union, opposed the District’s decision to adopt the SBA. Numerous teachers encouraged parents and students to opt out of them. BFT continues to oppose having to administer any outside assessments and standardized tests, and some teachers still encourage students and parents to opt out of SBA testing.
Beginning in the fall of 2015, Integrated Math was phased in at BHS over the course of 3 years in parallel with phasing out Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry such that Math 3 was first taught to juniors in 2017-2018. The 2018-19 graduating class and all subsequent cohorts have had Integrated Math while at Berkeley High. Initial drops in the performance level of all BHS students (as measured by higher D and F rates) were attributed to these students transitioning to Common Core math in middle school, but today 6 years into BHS’s implementation of Integrated Math and 8 years into BUSD’s adopting Common Core math in grades K-8, math grades and SBA scores show widespread proficiency among white students but not for other student subgroups. Poor K-12 math proficiency continues to be a district-wide concern.
Politics and The Math Wars
Many of the math issues that have surfaced in BUSD and at Berkeley High have similarly played out across the country. A December 6, 2019 New York Times article entitled “After 10 Years of Hopes and Setbacks, What Happened to the Common Core?” included the following assessment.
A decade later, after years full of foment in American schools, the performance of American students remains stagnant on the global and national exams that advocates often cited when making the case for the Common Core.
On the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, a test given every three years, the United States’ ranking in math and reading relative to other countries has improved, but only because of changes in those other countries’ performance — not because of growth in American students’ abilities on the test.
And low-performing students, who were supposed to benefit most, have especially struggled in recent years.
Internet searches on Integrated Math land one in an abyss of national debates amongst educators that go back to the 1980’s. Termed “The Math Wars” they are ongoing and now encompass the Common Core and Integrated Math. In the article “Understanding the Debate Over Math Instruction,” by Leo Doran, he leads off with “Equity versus excellence, conceptual understanding versus procedural expertise, and classroom experience versus ivory-tower pedigree; when it comes to math instruction, opposing camps of experts dispute the correct set of priorities to emphasize among the above when directing how math is taught in K-12 classrooms.” The article goes on to cite UCB professor Alan Schoenfeld's 2004 paper “Math Wars,” which said "historically, the political left has backed the teaching of a more accessible mathematics that prioritizes understanding concepts over rote repetition. The political right, meanwhile, has backed a focus on traditional mathematics that stresses rigor, memorization, and procedural skill.”
This is Berkeley. Our politics are notoriously left leaning. It is safe to infer that Integrated Math is here to stay. But being Berkeley, what is perhaps most disturbing about current math instruction to the BUSD parent community, not just at BHS but throughout Berkeley’s K-12 schools, is that year after year, cohort after cohort, the math proficiency of race-based, economic-based, and English-learner student minority subgroups continue to significantly lag behind that of white students. In math, new curriculums and new teaching approaches have introduced new challenges and setbacks, and the gaps are not closing.
The Math Vision ProjecT at Berkeley High
Adopting Integrated Math required finding a new curriculum to teach it. Teachers in Berkeley High’s math department selected the Math Vision Project (MVP) curriculum. At the time BHS adopted MVP, all the available curriculums for Integrated Math were in their infancy, so there was not a lot to choose from. Even now, searching for an Integrated Math textbook or curriculum is likely to yield a similar set of limited options. Like MVP, few curriculums have student textbooks to provide explanations, examples, and indices. Instead Integrated math curriculum resources typically include a student workbook, a teacher handbook, and video instructional modules. The MVP student workbooks that BUSD copies and distributes to its students are free to download. When MVP was adopted, the District invested in some professional development and purchased MVP course specific teacher manuals. It’s unclear whether or not new manuals are procured or professional development is provided for new hires. As opposed to classroom based curriculums, there are also online integrated math curriculums. Among them is UC Scout developed at UC Santa Cruz. Like other online Integrated Math curriculums, it has instructional videos, multiple choice online quizzes, and finals. UC Scout's curriculum is free to those, including high schools, who use it; but it's not a self-study option as doesn't provide any additional resources for students.
What’s most different among all Integrated Math 1-2-3 curriculums is not the Common Core concepts that are covered but rather the order in which they are presented. In a loose sense, the same can be said of Integrated Math and the Traditional Math sequence. All the math concepts in Integrated Math have counterparts in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics textbooks, but in the case of Integrated Math the concepts are reconstituted in novel combinations.
What is perhaps even more significant than the content of the MVP curriculum is how MVP is intended to be taught. When new concepts are introduced, instead of a teacher reviewing prerequisite skills, explaining the new concept, and walking students through an example, Integrated Math students are put into groups, given a problem to solve, and tasked with generating solutions through a collective process of discussion and discovery. This teaching approach is inherent to Integrated Math, and it works for the sector of students who learn math seamlessly. But it's a teaching approach that confounds the struggles of students with learning differences, many who have 504’s and IEPs to promote their academic success, those who lack English fluency, and those who are far below standards when they enter Berkeley High.
In addition to how MVP is intended to be taught, there’s also the nature of the actual problems in the curriculum. In statistics, no matter how complex a topic may be, problems can be constructed to have relevance to what’s in the real world and potentially of some interest to a high school student. This is not the case with many of the problems in MVP Math 1-2-3. Some not only lack relevance to the real world, but may not make sense in any applied math context. Is there a better curriculum for Integrated Math? The following comment on Reddit from a high school math teacher indicates probably not yet.
As a lead high school math teacher, I have had to make curricular decisions for my department. I have perused integrated titles, and they were just a mess. Like many ideas in education, I believe it is well intentioned, but the drive to constantly show the interrelatedness in topics seemed to manifest itself in “contrived connections” and incoherence in the integrated texts available.
Math 3 is significantly harder than Math 1 and 2. Math 1 and 2 are graduation requirements whereas Math 3 is not. However, 3 years of high school math is an A-G requirement. Students who opt out of taking Math 3 can meet A-G requirements by taking Math Studies, but it is only offered to them their senior year. This imposes a 1-year gap between completing Math 2 when a sophomore and taking Math Studies as a senior.
The BHS Math Department
In BUSD, along with most other public school systems in California, as of middle school, teachers no longer teach a multi-subject curriculum at a particular grade level. Instead teachers focus on a single subject or two. In BUSD’s middle schools, many students who have struggled with math benefit from having teachers who specialize in teaching math. Challenges persist, and some students do not make gains, but for many students who struggled with math in elementary school, positive math experiences abound. Sadly this bump is often short lived because the subject of math becomes progressively harder, and the problems inherent to BHS's curriculum and math instruction lie ahead.
The job of teaching math at the high school level is arguably the most difficult teaching challenge in secondary education. The subject matter becomes increasingly difficult, too difficult for some because new concepts build upon foundational and prerequisite math skills that students have not yet mastered. Given the scope of the math skills to cover in the Common Core curriculum, there’s not much if any extra classroom time to review and reinforce these skills. Math classrooms have students who seamlessly absorb math and retain all they’ve learned, students who need to refresh a latent skill previously acquired, students who consistently struggle with new material, and those who've never mastered essential math skills.
Berkeley High has over 20 teachers in its math department. Most specialize in the curriculum for a specific grade. Some teach additional math subject that is only taught to seniors such as AP Calculus, AP Statistics, and Math Studies. In 2014, the year before the implementation of Math 1-2-3, a number of BHS math teachers as well as some parents, spoke at school board meetings during public comment to highlight the need for BHS math teachers to have additional support for the Integrated Math implementation as it imposed a learning curve for math teachers. Concerns about substitutes and subsequent hires were also raised. The outcome was the Board’s decision to have the 2015-16 budget fund a free period for those teaching Integrated Math 1 the first year it was taught, the same in the 2016-17 budget for Math 2 teachers, and the same for Math 3. The intent of giving teachers a free period was to allow those teaching a new course the first time it was offered to have extra time to work together and become familiar with the new curriculum. But the promised free period for Math 3 was cut from the the 2017-18 budget, and the consequences were not good.
Aside from their individual personalities and teaching abilities, what most significantly differentiates BHS math teachers from one another springs from the autonomy teachers have to create their own tests, establish their own grading systems and set their own classroom policies. This cannot be disputed; it’s apparently spelled out either in California Ed Code or the BFT contract. Some BHS math teachers allow retests and/or test correction whereas others do not. In calculating quarterly grades, a few teachers allow one low test score to be thrown out. Some allow make up exams, some do not. The weight of classroom participation varies in grading; it is 75% of the student’s grade in one teacher's class. Some teachers correct tests and return them to students; others just tell students their test scores; some announce student test scores publicly, spotlighting those who fail in front of their classmates. It is unlikely that any Math 1-2-3 teacher corrects homework, but most include homework completion in their grading systems, and each has their own rules around turning in late homework. It is important to recognize that these differences can be the most determining factor in an individual student’s ability to succeed in a Math 1, Math 2, or Math 3 class. A student who fails in one teacher’s class could pass and possibly even excel with a different teacher. It's a roll of the dice situation for any student who finds math challenging as well as those who previously did well in math before Integrated Math.
Measuring Math Proficiency
Student abilities, teacher abilities, curriculum, and policies aside, what further compounds the District’s ability to assess and address BHS’s math programs is the absence of any uniform measure of BHS students’ math proficiency. It’s difficult to determine how to make progress when there’s no way to measure where you’re at. The SBA is the only uniform assessment that BHS students take, and it’s taken in 11th grade when some juniors are completing the Math 1-2-3 sequence but others haven't taken a math class their junior year because they opted out of Math 3. The other math proficiency measure is the students' Math 1, 2, 3 grades, aggregated across a grade level. As previously explained, grading is teacher-specific; but even so, when grades are disaggregated by student subgroup, the distributions resemble SBA scores.
There are a few formative tests (formative meaning tests created by the teachers versus an outside organization) that all math teachers administer (if the truth be told, there are a few teachers who refuse to administer them). One is a student assessment that is given at the beginning of the school year, and it is not at all apparent how teachers make use the information it yields. There are also teacher developed semester finals for Math 1, 2 and 3 as well as Advanced Math 1, 2, and 3. One might think Eureka, aggregated finals scores could serve as the uniform measure of BHS math proficiency we are missing and more, but there’s a problem. These final scores are not captured systematically, so it is not possible for the BREA department to utilize them to assess math proficiency. If they are put in any system, they are put in Illuminate, which may or may not be required of teachers. This situation could and should change when BUSD migrates off of Illuminate to a new student information system. If all BHS students' Math 1,2, and 3 semester finals scores were in our systems, they could be put to good use.
The week prior to semester math finals, the math teachers distribute a math review packet. The content of the review packet is incredibly helpful to students as it focuses what to study on what they need to know. But not all benefit from these review packets because one week is not a sufficient period of time for many students to complete the packet. Thus far the math department has not been receptive to parent requests for the final review packets to be distributed 2 weeks to the final.
For several years, math teachers and parents have organized a Math Info Night in the fall. Taking place before 1st quarter grades come out, most parents come in good faith in hopes of gaining insight into how math instruction will unfold. At these meetings and at Back to School Night, when offering outside resources for parents to pursue, math teachers consistently mention the following. Every day in one classroom or another, during lunch there's at least one Math 1, 2, or 3 teacher available to provide help (BHSDG pays stipends to these teachers for their services). After school there are UCB tutors in the College and Career Center. There is also a website the math department has developed which has some teacher created video examples and lists other resources.
The parent generated resources to be described further on may or may not be conveyed. Some teachers promoted the Math Parties, especially those teaching Advanced Math as advanced math students are required to fulfill a tutoring requirement and the students themselves must find someone to tutor. It’s unclear if any teachers told their students about the Lana beta, and the same is true of the Math Survival Kit, which the PTSA made available as of 2nd semester 2020-21.
LCAP Funded Resources for BHS Math
After 5 years of budget austerity secondary to funding cuts that 2008 recession imposed on all California school districts, in 2014 the State announced it would increase its funding for public schools. In doing so it rolled out a new funding law, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) which requires a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) to encompass the District's programs (known as actions) to meet overall goals. In addition to “base” funding per student, LCFF introduced “supplemental” funds to provide services for traditionally underserved student populations. These funds are apportioned according to the number of “unduplicated” English Language Learner, Socio-Economically Disadvantaged, and Foster students within a District. Students who fall into multiple categories are only counted once, hence the term “unduplicated”, which recently and more appropriately has been replaced with the term “prioritized”.
Additionally, LCAP required the formation of an LCAP Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) to have a voice in the use of “supplemental” funds which is achieved by the PAC providing comments to the superintendent and school board. Supplemental funds, which have constituted approximately 4% of the BUSD Budget, are occasionally referred to here and in many other contexts as LCAP funds. In their June 15 2015 comments, the first PAC urged the District to “fund math intervention services at a similar level of priority as literacy intervention.” Every subsequent PAC has flagged concerns about K-12 math with an increasing sense of urgency.
When discussing the math proficiency of Berkeley High students, it is essential to keep in mind that many students' struggles with math began long before they got to Berkeley High. STAR testing data shared with the LCAP PAC in 2017 revealed that as of second grade, well over 80% of the students who were below grade level proficiency in math at the end of Q1 were still below grade level at the end of Q2. Lower scores in Q1 could not be solely attributed to the rationale that summer vacation break can bring about lower Q1 math scores. Students take SBA tests in grades 3-8, and the distribution of SBA measures of K-8 student subgroup proficiencies parallels those of BHS student subgroups; progress is not progressing.
The initial LCAP budget funded “Math Coach” positions as a means to support the District’s Common Core implementation. The math coach concept is to have a teacher specialist to be a resource for other teachers. To support Berkeley High’s implementation of Integrated Math, as of 2015-16 LCAP funded a math coach at Berkeley High.
In 2016-17 LCAP funded a program to offer BHS students struggling in math Saturday math workshops with BHS math teachers. This project never got off the ground because it was unable to attract any teachers interested in working on Saturdays.
In the 2018-19 school year, in hopes of standardizing math instruction among U9 teachers, the math coach position was dropped and LCAP funds contributed to creating a 2-year math administrator position at Berkeley High. The idea was for this administrator to work with the Math 1 teachers for a year and Math 2 teachers the following year. Per the BFT contract, a “teacher on special assignment” (TSA) position such as a math coach, cannot review or give feedback on the performance of other teachers, only an administrator can do this. This BHS math administrator position did not work out as planned, and it was dropped at the end of 2019-20.
As of 2018-19 LCAP has funded a “Leap” teacher for each U9 hive to teach an elective class that provides extra academic supports for students in the hive. Leap classes continue to be part of the U9 program. Because the Leap support class is an elective, class sizes tend to be small. To date, no data demonstrating their impact on academic outcomes has been released.
Parent Concerns About Math 1-2-3
When Math 1-2-3 was implemented many students who had previously been successful in math began to struggle in new ways. This has not changed. Parents proficient in math have found it very challenging to help their children. Many parents who have math expertise find the curriculum’s jumbling of concepts to be confounding. Failure has been a new experience for some families of children who did well in math up until Math 1-2-3.
BHS has no counterpart to the ease in which some parents and guardians can establish supportive relationships with their child's K-8 teachers and administrators. If your child is one of the unlucky ones, successfully advocating for your child at BHS is a crap shoot and the odds are against you. This reality is not specific to math, but Math 1-2-3 can and does derail many students. There are no sure pathways for a parent to successfully advocate for their own child or students at large who are struggling in Math 1-2-3, whatever the underlying reason and whatever the ultimate consequence.
When considering what parents experience with their children’s math struggles, it’s important to acknowledge that privilege and English fluency play out differently in this reality. Parents who are comfortable emailing their children’s teachers, either through their own or their children’s accounts, may be well served for having done so. Parents who can afford math tutors get them. When faced with their child failing math, parents with the wherewithal and resources to do so can pull their child out of BHS math with the option to pay for a tutor to help with an online Integrated Math curriculum source that can provide a transcript, pay for an Integrated Math at a private school such as Tilden Academy, transfer their child into Independent Study, or leave BHS altogether. Many students end up in Berkeley Independent Study because of math. The impact of math struggles are not just academic. Math struggles generate anxiety for many students and emotional crises for some. When the problem is an excessively rigid teacher or teacher bully, should a parent attempt to do what might seem obvious, get their child transferred to a different math teacher, they will discover that such a move is prohibited by a BHS administrative policy. The only allowable exception is to transfer an advanced math student into a regular class. Paying for something privately or transferring into Independent Study or another school allows parents to pursue options that aren’t ideal but can preserve their child’s GPA and mental health. The bar is much higher for families who are at a disadvantage because of institutional racism or their socio-economic standing or language proficiency. Failure is the only option for many of them at the cost of their child’s self esteem, college eligibility, and potential opportunities in adult life.
Parent Efforts to Address Math
That influencing the BHS math department is a formidable challenge has not stopped BHS parents from working to bring about positive change and resources for its math students. Around the time Integrated Math was adopted, several parents created websites with resources for students and parents. A pair of parents in the first Math 1-2-3- cohort created “math parent liaison” positions for themselves and worked to strengthen relationships with the math teachers. They were subsequently joined by other parents to organize “Math Party” tutoring on Sunday afternoons at Sport’s Basement. There, retired BHS teachers, UCB math students, and math-savvy parents provided free tutoring. Advanced Math 1-2-3 students provided peer tutoring. Math Parties continued until the pandemic closed schools in 2020, and it’s possible they might resume when the school reopens.
In March of 2018, the PTSA hosted its first Math Discussion Night. What began as an impromptu idea to provide parents an opportunity to come together to share their concerns about Math 1-2-3 has become an annual tradition as little has changed. At this first meeting, two teacher leaders came, the vice principal math administrator came, the parent math liaisons came, as many as 15 parents with children in the first cohort to take Math 3 came; all in all over 75 people attended. This was the first year Math 3 was taught, and 18% of BHS juniors received a D or F in math in the first quarter, the highest rate of failure in an 11th grade math quarter ever at BHS. This was particularly traumatizing to students who had never gotten a C in any high school subject and a low grade in math stood to derail their college aspirations. Parents of students in this cohort confronted math teachers, composed guidelines for students to use when filling out their college applications, spoke at Board meetings, and met with District directors and the Superintendent. In a meeting that two BHS parents had with the BFT president at the time, in response to their asking what had caused the problem with Math 3 that year, her response was the high school’s vice principal math administrator (this former administrator responded to parent concerns and was appreciated). But what the Math 3 teachers said at the Math Discussion Night was more plausible, that losing the extra prep period had impacted the Math 3 teachers ability to prepare and effectively teach the new Math 3 curriculum its first year. Since this time the overall difficulty of Math 3 is much better understood, students who struggle opt out of taking it, and no subsequent Math 3 class cohort has had comparable failure rates.
As of the 2020-21 school year, the PTSA has had four Math Discussion Nights, none as dramatic as the first, but all constructive in terms of information sharing. Every year parents come to learn, share, or vent and express their desire to contribute to positive change. Parents who may attend have include professionals such as math professors, education researchers, and math specialist tutors. The same themes emerge every year. That so much is wrong in some classrooms, that so many students suffer at BHS because of math, and that little has improved student experiences and outcomes is discouraging. (see Math@BHS summary).
In the fall of the 2018-2019 school year, PTSA Execs Mimi Pulich and Ramona Coates, who also served as BHS’s representatives on the LCAP PAC, secured a one-time LCAP small grant to develop a lunchtime math peer tutoring program at BHS. Erin Schweng, who was principal at this time, felt that teachers needed to have trust in its parent implementor. Ramona, who teaches statistics at City College and San Francisco State had established rapport with BHS math teachers so she took on this role. When the funding came through in the second semester of 2019, Ramona succeeded in getting several teachers to encourage their students to spend their Friday lunch period working on math or helping others. Providing lunch and snacks encouraged student attendance and helped to secure their buy in. As students started to experience success, their work ethic and work completion increased. Some students reported that they would not have done their homework without the support they received. Some encouraged other students to come. The student tutors got lunch and could include their service on their college applications; and for their dedication, some were awarded graphic calculators at the end of the year.
Lana and The Math Survival Kit
In the Spring of 2018, shortly after the PTSA’s first Math Discussion Night, Nina Hooper reached out to the PTSA to solicit input on math at Berkeley High. Originally from Melbourne Australia, Nina was an industrious student who succeeded in getting full scholarships to Harvard, where she majored in astrophysics, and Stanford, where she got a masters in aerospace engineering. After working in the aerospace industry for several years, Nina applied for and received a NSA grant to develop an app to benefit high school students. For several months, Nina travelled across the US and interviewed math teachers and students at over 40 schools. She settled in Berkeley and began implementing Lana, a chatbox math tutoring app she envisioned. What came out of Nina’s meetings with Mimi Pulich and Ramona Coates led to a 2.5 year collaboration between Nina and the PTSA..
Nina dove into the MVP curriculum, observed math classes, and volunteered as a math tutor for BHS’s athletic department and summer school math classes. Throughout the 2018-19 school year, a small group of BHS Math 2 sophomores used Lana as Nina developed it. In Q1 of 2019-20 Nina and PTSA promoted a Lana beta. But despite the years she’d put into it, in the middle of Q2 Nina abandoned Lana to pursue a different app for high school students that was unrelated to math. The Lana beta only attracted a few students motivated to work independently. Nina found that students were most focused on getting answers, and there are apps that can provide a solution to a picture of a math problem taken on a phone.
Lana included a library of curated video examples, over 2000 of them, for every “Ready, Set, Go” problem set in the MVP Math 1-2-3 curriculum. Recognizing their value, the PTSA paid Nina to repackage and rebrand them as the Math Survival Kit, and it became available on the PTSA website in February 2021.
The Looming Impact of Distance Learning
At the January 21, 2021 school board meeting, BHS PTSA executives used the PTA Council’s 5 minute time slot to address the Board and said the following
The curriculum at Berkeley High, the Math Vision Project, MVP, introduces new concepts without any review of those previously taught and presumes students have fully mastered every concept they’ve been taught. When distance learning is behind us and students are on campus in math classes, they will not have been exposed to all concepts, they will not have necessarily been taught the same concepts, and it’s not clear anyone is thinking this far ahead.
Now with distance learning, students are in break-out rooms, getting 40% of the amount of math instruction they had previously, they're in class for 4 weeks, and then a month goes by before they resume math. It’s a dramatic change, but what hasn’t changed is that our math teachers have different classroom policies; some allow retests and test correction, some don’t: and in their grading, how they weigh class participation, tests, and homework varies by teacher.
Since the time MVP was introduced, parents have raised concerns about math and have worked to bring resources to Berkeley High. During this time Berkeley High has had 4 principals and 4 different vice principals math administrators. If you don’t already know it, let me be the one to tell you that these administrators wear many hats and 95% of their energy goes towards keeping the high school running. So we cannot look to them or expect them to resolve these problems. A K-12 Math task force is not going to solve the math issues at Berkeley High or even scratch the surface. So it rests on you, our elected Board members, … to get involved in a new way to bring about the change needed to set Berkeley High on a different course, one that incorporates research and recognizes that one size doesn’t fit all, that at present no size works for far too many students, and that distance learning has greatly exacerbated a long standing problem.
To improve math in all our schools, we must work together, listen to each other, especially our students, and create a solution where educators, parents, and students feel supported and where our students benefit from our effort. Our District’s PTA organizations have been integral to our schools, and working with the Board’s leadership and BHS’s educators and administrators, we can turn the corner and start seeing better math outcomes at Berkeley High
Pre and Post Pandemic Outcomes
Whatever insights might have been gained from the 2020 and 2021 SBA scores, having this measure of BHS math proficiency has been disrupted by the pandemic. Consequently it is not possible to assess whether or not additional math supports provided in the U9 have made a positive impact, something which the first U9's SBA scores might have indicated if they surpassed those of preceding cohorts. Future SBA scores for cohorts at BHS are likely to reflect the limitations of distance learning, which further limits any objective assessment of overall math achievement with MVP.
BHS Standards Met or Exceeded Scores for Traditional Math Sequence
Test Year Cohort Year African Am Hispanic White Asian
2015 2015 - 2016 12.0% 27.0% 63.0% 56.0%
2016 2016 - 2017 20.0% 28.0% 70.0% 61.0%
2017 2017 - 2018 4.88% 18.75% 65.09% 50.0%
BHS SBA Standards Met or Exceeded Scores for Integrated Math 1-2-3
Test Year Cohort Year African Am Hispanic White Asian
2018 2018 - 2019 16.22% 31.03% 71.55% 62.9%
2019 2019 - 2020 22.45% 31.58% 78.36% 53.33%
2021 cohorts enrolled in Math 1-2-3 impacted by the Pandemic
Cohort Year SBA Testing Math 1-3-3 Impact
2020 - 2021 Cancelled ½ Math 3 in Distance learning
2021 - 2022 Cancelled ½ Math 2, all of Math 3 in Distance learning
2022 - 2023 Expected ½ Math 1, all of Math 2 in Distance Learning
2023 - 2024 Expected All of Math 1 in Distance Learning
Observing Math Classes Across the USA and at BHS
The following is a transcript of Nina Hooper’s account of what she learned about high school math from talking to teachers and observing classrooms throughout the US, including two classrooms at Berkeley High.
Across the country the problems with math are that students in classrooms have such a wide range of levels and abilities, not even abilities but knowledge. Some students come in 4 years behind, some students come in ahead of the standards for the curriculum. So across the board It’s exceptionally difficult for any teacher, even the best teachers, to try and manage 30 or so kids in a classroom at completely different levels. It’s just difficult. You can’t explain one concept because half of the class is disengaged because they’re way behind, half is bored because they’re ahead, and in the middle are those where what's being taught is targeting the actual students that need guidance to learn it. Across the board I saw that this was an issue.
I also heard from teachers, again and again, that the biggest predictor of student success and student engagement was parent engagement. So if parents weren’t participating in school, going to parent teacher meetings, or telling students to value their education, then it didn’t matter how much the teacher tried to remediate them; it was very uncommon for that student to put in effort on their own time if their parents just didn’t value it, which makes sense. If it isn’t something you care about, like I didn’t care about sports, then I’m not going to do it no matter how much my teacher tells me to participate in sports because I don’t care about sports, it’s not part of my family’s value set.
So across the board these were the two issues, that there’s such a wide range of abilities in the classroom that is hard to teach to and that often the parents of the students who were performing worst weren’t engaged enough for the students to take seriously the effort of doing well in math or understanding why math is important.
The students’ perspective, which I would say take it with a grain of salt, was that what they were learning in math wasn’t meaningful or relevant to anything they were interested in, so why put in the effort. Like “why are we learning this instead of learning how business works?” That’s the oldest excuse of time, I heard that when I was in high school. Students feel frustrated that they are learning very theoretical math and not learning things that are applicable. My impression is that on the one hand it’s true, they should be learning more things that are practical, but often students who just didn’t care about math wanted to have an excuse. It’s not that they would have been that engaged if they were learning about business. If told “OK today we’re going to be learning more about trigonometry,” their excuse would be “When are we ever going to use this? Why aren’t we learning about business? It would be so much more interesting.” Would they actually pay more attention if they were learning about business? Who knows? But frequently this was their attitude.
At BHS I observed two 9th grade teachers, both were good teachers, I didn’t have any question marks around the way they were teaching, just about the curriculum itself. When they gave out a worksheet, the worksheet covered 3 totally distinct topics. For example, I remember in one of the worksheets a teacher gave out, the first set of problems was about coordinate axes, the next set of questions was about triangle congruence, and the last was about using the distance equation to figure out the distance between two spots. They were all vaguely geometry, but very different mathematical principles. I was sitting next to a student who was low performing in the class, whom the teacher later told me was chronically truant. This student could not even draw a coordinate point on the axes. When I walked across the room, he had not finished the 1st question in the first set whereas other students were further along and some had finished the entire sheet and were bored and chatting with friends. So a wide range of abilities came into play. I then worked with the first student and showed him how to plot points on the axes, such that he finished all 6 and had gained a sense of “ok, I know how to do these.” But the next set of questions was a completely different topic. So we had to start from scratch again. I don’t blame the teacher, the student had been away for an extended time and lacked information from a lot of classes, but the fact that the worksheet had these distinct ideas on it meant that even if the student had built up some confidence, the next problem was not building on that, it was a completely unrelated topic.
As opposed to standard curriculums that focus on one topic and it maybe gets more challenging, this is Integrated Math which intentionally jumps between topics and lessons with the intent to regularly remind students about topics they’ve learned in the past so that they become fluent in all of them. But when the students have not already mastered those topics, throwing them three different topics in one lesson is too much for them to learn in any new lesson. The students who have already mastered those topics don’t have a problem with this, but the students who are behind now have 3 whole things that they don’t know how to do, and it doesn’t build up their skills or confidence. But what makes MVP even harder, is that the homework they are then assigned to do at home has 3 different topics as well and they might not be what they did in the classroom. So homework as well is not building on what they did in the classroom. It might be something they did last week or the week before AND the homework has no explanations to refresh them. So maybe in this case of coordinate axes, congruency and the distance formula, they go home and the homework may still vaguely be within the realm of geography or something covered previously in an earlier class, but if the student wasn’t there that week, or no one helped them master those topics, and the thing they are assigned to do at home has no explanations, there’s no way they can do the homework on their own.
Another teacher I observed shared with me their intent to leave BUSD because the BHS math department required them to not explain what the students didn't understand. Wanting the students to build up their knowledge through activities to make them deeply understand was not effective. For example I remember a problem that was basic, like a2 + b2 = c2 and they had an activity with tiles. The teacher wasn’t at the front of the class instructing; the activity had to be student directed learning. The intent is good. If students figure this out themselves, they will internalize it, but this doesn’t work because of the wide range of abilities among the students and there are no materials for the students to refer to. The curriculum doesn’t want students to use explanations and examples, they want the students to learn it on their own in the classroom. Students who aren’t doing well don't have any opportunity to catch up, there isn’t a support system to help them overcome that challenge. So if they missed a class or weren’t paying attention, they don’t have a reference to go back to to learn about that topic. It’s on the students to find an explanation themselves either on the Internet, possibly on the teacher website, or with the help of a tutor, because the curriculum is not designed for the students to have examples.
I myself taught myself chemistry from the textbook, I taught myself math from the textbook. The reason I did well was not because of the classroom, it was because I had access to a resource where I could see examples, I could see how it was explained, and I would rote practice it. Maybe they want you to have some understanding of exactly how you derive the math from whatever, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, I’ve done well in math. Removing resources from students to force them to engage and learn it deeply in a certain way is effective, but you should also be giving them resources to learn from.
A statistic I came upon in my research was that at any given time 60% of the students in a high school classroom are disengaged. Maybe they’re chatting with a friend, maybe they have a crush on someone and are paying attention to that person, maybe they are hungry, maybe they’ve had a bad morning or fight with their family or they’re on their phone in class. For whatever reason, students aren’t paying attention, and this is not new. That for me is the biggest oversight with this curriculum. They are assuming students are engaging much more than they are in the classroom, and therefore they shouldn’t need additional resources, instead they should just pay more attention in class, and that’s just not practical. I wasn’t paying attention in class and I still did well because I had the ability to go back and learn it myself on my own time if I needed to because I had that resource, and they’ve taken that away from the kids. I'm sure that among the BHS math students who are struggling or are on the edge of failing, if the right resource was at their disposal there would be some number of them who could pull themselves out.
Berkeley High’s math issues did not begin with the Common Core or Integrated Math, both of which were envisioned to be solutions to long standing problems. Numerous alumni parents have said that math was a problem when they were at Berkeley High. Across the country high schools have grappled with the same problems as Berkeley High’s, past and present. They may be solvable, but Berkeley High is not at the forefront of solving them.
Although some parents feel the problem with math at BHS is the MVP curriculum, there is no movement afoot in BHS or BUSD to find a different high school math curriculum nor is there an Integrated Math curriculum out there that is definitively better. Assuming that MVP is here to stay for the foreseeable future raises several fruitful questions to explore. Is there an objective assessment of MVP’s strengths and weaknesses? Is there another school district that has had success with MVP. What else can we do to better prepare students for Integrated Math at Berkeley High?
Mvp usability Weaknesses
EdReports reviewed the Mathematics Vision Project Integrated Math curriculum in 2016 and gave it relatively high marks. EdReports reviews curriculums in three “Gateway” areas, each of which has “Criterions” under which their are “Indicators,” and it scores them according to 3-tiered criteria: “meets expectations,” “partially meets expectations,” and “does not meet expectations.”
In EdReports gateway summaries, MVP met expectations in “Focus and Coherence” and “Rigor and Mathematical Practices,” but it did not meet expectations in “Usability,” scoring 23 in this tier’s range of 22-29. Descriptions of several weak usability indicators include the following.
The teacher edition for the instructional materials does not contain adult-level discussions of the mathematics, and the teacher edition does not explain the role of the specific mathematics standards in the context of the overall series.
The instructional materials do not meet the expectation for differentiated instruction for diverse learners within and across courses. Materials do not always provide strategies to help teachers sequence or scaffold lessons so that the content is accessible to all learners, provide strategies for meeting the needs of a range of learners, or embed tasks with multiple entry-points that can be solved using a variety of solution strategies or representations.
The instructional materials reviewed for Mathematics Vision Project Integrated series do not meet the expectation for providing support, accommodations, and modifications for English Language Learners and other special populations that will support their regular and active participation in learning mathematics (e.g., modifying vocabulary words within word problems). Although Spanish materials are provided for Secondary Math One Modules 2-6, no accommodations for English Language Learners or other special populations are available.
The MVP usability weaknesses in the EdReports review align with the limitations of math instruction at Berkeley High as reflected in SBA and math grades.
MVP at the Maine Township High School District 207
Although the Math Vision Project boasts of its curriculum being used in 35 states, searching the internet doesn’t turn up many other schools. But upon finding the Maine Township High School District 207, there is no need to look any further.
The Maine Township high school district encompasses a 36-square-mile area 30 minutes from downtown Chicago. Established in 1902, it has its own superintendent, its own 7-member school board, employs around 400 teachers, and serves around 6300 students in its 4 high schools. The district has earned many national awards including being named one of the “Most Innovative School Districts” for its unique approaches to expand and support teacher learning and student success both during and after high school.” (source: Wikipedia)
As of the 2019-20 school year, its math department adopted MVP because its math teachers were unsatisfied with the traditional curriculum and decided that "integrated math with MVP gave us a good starting point for the changes we wanted to see.”
The Maine Township’s MVP implementation has included establishing standards in the areas that are most troublesome with math instruction at Berkeley High. Specifically, they have a standards based grading system, every module is graded, and all students are allowed to take retests.
A rubric has been developed for each module assessment that will also be used throughout the unit to help define performance levels. Instead of grading each question for points, teachers will instead look at the overall performance on each proficiency indicator and determine a numerical score on the rubric to share with the student. Most if not all of the proficiency indicators will have a rubric grade on each assessment. Students who have shown limited or no evidence of understanding any proficiency indicator will be encouraged to seek additional assistance or may be referred to our MTSS program. These students should retake the assessment. The final exam times will be used as additional time to reassess areas of weakness.
The Maine Township’s webpage on grading and assessment acknowledges that students learn differently which is why they offer the opportunity for every student to take retests. Of equal interest is what they say about standards-based grading, that it’s a means to improve learning for every student for it ”helps us realize our vision of reflective and resilient learners who receive personal and relevant feedback in an environment that nurtures their academic and social and emotional growth.” Of additional interest are the academic supports they provide. “The majority of our students have a minimum of 20-minutes within their school day on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays and 90-minutes on Tuesdays or Wednesdays to access extra support in the school’s Academic Support Center.”
Illinois ranks 11th it what it spends per student, $18,652, whereas and California ranks 21st in what it spends per student, $12,498. No doubt this has great significance in terms of class sizes and the capacity to provide resources. But philosophically, the Maine Township is a different universe than BHS, one that is not governed by teacher autonomy but is instead is organized around creating student opportunities for growth and serving their diverse needs.
Over the past seven years BUSD has implemented the Common Core with Eureka math and the Math Vision Project, has hired Math Coaches, Response to Intervention teachers, English Language Teachers, the short-lived BHS Math Administrator, and has offered middle school math support classes and numerous K-12 extended learning opportunities. It’s fair to say that with students whose math struggles begin early in elementary school, none of these approaches have elevated their math proficiency in ways that have sufficiently prepared them to succeed in math at Berkeley High.
Throughout the pandemic, as BUSD rallied to serve its diverse community, the Office of Family Engagement and Equity assumed a new role to meet the needs of the community. Reflecting on what Nina Hooper’s road trip research revealed, that the biggest problem that secondary math teachers face nationwide is the wide range of student abilities in a math classroom and that they see parent engagement to be the biggest predictor of student engagement and success, maybe it’s time to expand what family engagement does in Berkeley’s elementary schools. Maybe adopting a real Family Engagement Framework, such as that promoted by the CA Department of Education, one that early on engages parents and guardians in their children’s math education, is a way that Berkeley can do better with math than it has done thus far.
This is Berkeley. We can do better.
PTSA VP, former President & Treasurer (5 years)
LCAP PAC Representative for BHS, King, and the Superintendent (7 years)
PTA Council, former VP and Treasurer (5 years)
BUSD parent 2008-2021