Recently the state of Ohio announced they will be increasing graduation math requirements for all students. The new rule states that all graduating students must have four years of math and at least one course at the algebra II level or higher.
It seems this action was spurred by student performance on state testing programs and college records showing incoming freshmen lack math skills. This causes many students to take remedial math work or refresher classes at the college level. Some, however, make an easier decision and change their major where higher math may not be needed.
Another problem that arose concerning low scores and poor performance, comes from research showing many high school seniors do not take math courses because they have fulfilled previous requirements, and more advanced math classes are difficult.
When these students enter college, they find they have forgotten much of what they previously learned because it had been two summers and one school year since they used these skills and ideas. Further results of these studies show many students do not plan to go to college until their junior or senior year, and therefore, did not prepare by taking the necessary math classes. Some colleges will definitely state a student must have particular math courses while others may say certain classes are strongly recommended.
Additional issues may arise when high schools are concerned about dropout rates. If demands for required courses keep increasing, and electives become limited, more students may drop out because of the difficulties of advanced courses. This becomes a catch-22 situation. Many schools have initiated algebra I in the middle school curriculum, but again, this is far from college time, and skills and knowledge not used for several years may create lower test scores.
Some suggestions may be to have a review or refresher course in the senior year that would cover the material most math courses require, and would help those going to college. However, staff and money could become a factor in providing more classes.
School administrators are well aware of the need to improve math skills and are trying to accommodate necessary changes. For some students, it is not a matter of the school offering these classes, but rather the individual's desire to learn the material presented. As the colleges are concerned about higher-functioning and logical math skills, high schools still have a need to teach students about consumer math. This may involve checking and savings accounts, interest rates on loans, credit card debt, investments and spending habits. These are necessary for functioning in our everyday life and a lack of this knowledge has helped to contribute to the problem of the financial crisis we have experienced in recent years.
There are many skills and much information our young people must learn. However, we cannot continue to add requirements in English, math science, health and physical education without making some changes to the length of the school day, school year or number of school years. The No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top Program, and previous government educational revisions have proven beneficial in some ways, but fall short in others.
Some adults will say they should have stayed in school, worked harder or studied more, but that realization came at a later time in life. Staying in school, taking challenging courses and working hard must be conveyed to our young people in the middle and elementary schools. All school years are important and studying is necessary.
Young people must have goals. These may change, but parents and students should know their options. Being proactive, by planning ahead for the future, is more productive than being reactive to what happens in later life. Take advantage of preparing a four- to five-year school plan as an eighth-grader. Parents and students should talk with guidance counselors, or favorite teachers, attend college fairs, and meet with a person who is currently working in the field of the student's interest long before he or she decides on a particular college or field of study.
This new math requirement should help to prepare those going to college; but, will those who regularly struggled with math survive algebra II? Will schools be able to increase interest in math and show how important it is?
We can require certain courses, years students stay in school, starting ages for preschoolers, the number of days students attend, change the length of the school day, but how do we mandate that a student learn?
Roger Warren is a retired teacher, counselor and principal from Ohio County Schools and is retired from St. Clairsville-Richland City School District, where he was an administrator. He was principal of Madison Elementary on Wheeling Island for 16 years and was an adjunct professor of education for West Liberty State College.