This page shares information on the math placement process and options at the secondary schools (starting 6th grade) at Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) . We clarify important issues that are not conveyed well in the official district math placement document so that parents can calibrate their expectations from the school programs and better support their students. Another goal is to advocate improvements to the program so that all students are supported better at school. The information here is based on the experience of dozens of parents, mostly from Greene (Jordan) middle school, and on discussions with administration and district staff.
Why the focus on math? Math is unique among academic subjects. Math is fundamental to all STEM and allowing students to realize their potential is important not only to their success and satisfaction as individuals but also benefits the economy and society.
Math instruction poses some unique challenges: Similar to foreign languages, continued growth during childhood and adolescence when the brain is developing is essential (here is one example study). In math, concepts build on each other so it is important for both student confidence and development to stay on track or ahead. Appropriate level of challenge is needed to facilitate both growth and appreciation of math. Finally, as in any developmental axis, students of the same physiological age can have a wide range of aptitudes (natural learning pace) and levels. But unlike other topics, it is not possible to support a wide range in a rigid traditional classroom where all students are required to follow the same lessons.
The chart (from official document) shows the PAUSD organic secondary school math pathways.
- Red arrows require summer work.
- "Skip" pathways are not shown in the chart. They lead to middle school Geometry H (and BC calculus before Grade 12). "Skipping" is done by (i) external after school math learning that is not supported by the district to cover the skipped curriculum (ii) gaining eligibility to test by maintaining full engagement at the lower-level school course, (iii) passing at least one of two one-shot only 2-hour tests: "7A mastery" or "Algebra 8 mastery." Incoming 6th graders must remain in math 6 unless they skip directly into Algebra 8. The district allows skipping of "7A", "Algebra 8", and/or "Alg2/Trig H".
- The chart also does not show (i) AP statistics (does not require calculus) and (ii) the two "university level" (post BC calc) courses offered by PAUSD jointly with Canada community college: Multivariable calculus and Linear Algebra
- The colors are indicative of the natural pacing of the courses. The yellow/pink are slowest, then light blue, blue (Advanced "A" lane), light green, and green (Honors "H" lane).
Information resources for middle school parents
- Many middle school students at PAUSD, in particular 6th and 7th graders, enroll in external math programs. We provide pointers and some introduction to established quality math courses. These programs are helpful for a range of students : Those that need re-enforcement of grade-level concepts to those that are entirely above grade level and use them as their primary math learning venue.
- Slides that overview the PAUSD program These slides from May 2018 include points of concern and were shared with board members and district. Slides include comparison to programs (placement and options) at similar school districts. We hope for some improvements.
- Information and advice for families of incoming 6th graders that are above-grade-level (from 2017/2018 6th grade parents at Greene/Jordan): What to expect from the program at school and advice on supporting your students: The PAUSD placement process, placement options, quality external (after school) programs that offer quality coverage of the curriculum, and how to get objective assessments on your student level.
- Document on the 6th grade experience of students at Greene/Jordan as the 2017/2018 year unrolled.
- Middle school math curriculum information (adopted 2017): Big Ideas textbooks and accompanying online material. Free online versions of 6th grade textbook and 7A textbook. The exact Algebra 8 text book does not seem to have an online free version but there is a very close newer online version. Our advice however is that for the purpose of learning math outside of school use other books such as AoPS (loved by mathematicians, more geared to challenge advanced kids but can also be consumed at standards level) or Singapore math (geared to all). Also see quality math courses.
- To learn and share information on teachers see the website Rate My Teachers (Greene/Jordan) JLS Fletcher (Terman) . The district (as many others) does not accommodate requests to change teachers due to teaching and learning styles mismatches or teaching quality. The nature of math, however, is such that even one year with a mismatch can impact the student's long term interest and success in math. We recommend that parents stay tuned and ready to provide after school support if the instruction is not as effective for their student.