Monday, October 27, 2014

College Board & Common Core Shift Focus From Calculus to Algebra

Is the College Board conspiring with proponents of Common Core to replace its emphasis on calculus for top students with a focus on basic algebra skills for all? And, is this all the more evidence of a "Race to the Middle" in which the needs of America's best and brightest are ignored in the attempt to bring all students to a basic competency? That seems to be the indication from the announcement that the College Board is "Reconciling AP Exams with Common Core."

The College Board is responding to the brewing changes of today's Common Core era by revising the Advanced Placement program so that the focus is on fewer concepts and more depth. Despite these measures, there are still difficulties in reconciling many AP courses with the Common Core. In particular, AP Calculus is in conflict with the Common Core, Packer said, and it lies outside the sequence of the Common Core because of the fear that it may unnecessarily rush students into advanced math classes for which they are not prepared. The College Board suggests a solution to the problem. of AP Calculus “If you’re worried about AP Calculus and fidelity to the Common Core, we recommend AP Statistics and AP Computer Science,” he told conference attendees.
Moreover, the College Board may offer an AP Algebra course (although no plans are definite), which may supplant AP Calculus, particularly in schools rigidly adhering to the Common Core standards.
This misguided shift by College Board could very well represent another "Sputnik moment" when America again ends up on the wrong side of history. Truly, for many students a basic proficiency in algebra is all they will ever need in terms of numeracy knowledge. But for the top thirty percent who will be accessing the highest levels of math in college, the earlier access to trig and calculus and differential equations is fundamental to success. Let's be clear: Some students should be prepped for the study of calculus and many shouldn't. And there is nothing wrong with that. But emphasizing a deeper knowledge of fewer concepts at the lower grades will prepare fewer for the highest levels at high school and college. And this is a mistake.

The very idea that College Board could be considering an AP-level for algebra is truly absurd. Granted, there is "algebra" at the college level - especially abstract studies of "linear algebra." But the idea of offering AP credit for the basic level of math at high school is disconcerting. The students at my high school can access four levels of math past AP Calculus - Calculus III, Differential Equations, Abstract Math, and Linear Algebra - because our students are simply that advanced. We even have students accessing AP Calc as freshman or middle schoolers. And that is truly exceptional and should be cultivated. It should not be dismissed as a side effect of trying to make sure more students "go deeper" into algebra.

Could this be more evidence that the current education reform is detrimental to the needs of our most most advanced and gifted students? And why is our focus on one-size-for-all?

Thanks to Darren at RightOnTheLeftCoast for bringing this to my attention.

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