Replacing the Calculus Track for Middletown Students Sparks Questions and a Petition from Parents


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MIDDLETOWN — A new mathematics curriculum, that aims in part to replace the current calculus track with a more equitable sequence of courses at the middle school and high school levels has prompted parents to petition the district for a pause until they receive more information about the change. 

Middletown has introduced a new math curriculum, known as Illustrative Mathematics, over the last few years. Yvonne Daniels, math supervisor for grades 6 to 12, says the district wants to focus on teaching students the process of solving a mathematical problem rather than simply obtaining an answer by rote.

“We want kids to have strategies … it’s not about procedures without connections,” Richard Cordaway, who directs Pre-K to 12 mathematics and intervention for the district, explained in an April 2022 curriculum meeting. He said the district wished to emphasize critical thinking and problem-solving strategies rather than mechanical calculations, which can now be done using computers. 

In a June 2023 curriculum meeting, the district introduced the idea of a new “data science pathway” as an option for students. 

“This started as a plan of, ‘Why don’t we have more options?’” said Daniels. “We just really took what we had and reorganized it … nothing has been taken away.” 

The approach is part of a larger adoption of a curriculum called “Math Pathways,” that according to Cordaway gives students the option of different types of courses based on their interests and talents. 

In the June curriculum meeting, Daniels said that students will be required to take two core classes — Math I, corresponding to traditional Algebra I, and Math II, which corresponds to traditional geometry. Daniels said that Algebra II, the traditional third class, would be included in the 9th and 10th grade math courses. 

After those classes, students will have the option of taking Data Science I and II, AP Statistics, AP Computer Science, or Integrated Pre-Calc and AP Calculus.

District administrators said that the change would make it possible for students who did not take Algebra I in 8th grade to take calculus before graduating high school.  

“The way it is designed right now, it is designed [as a] silo. Only certain kids have access to higher level classes. We are trying to eliminate that,” said Stacey McCann, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. 

As presented at the June Board of Education meeting, Math I would now be called Integrated Algebra I and Math II would be called Integrated Geometry, though that plan is still subject to revision

Cordaway told board members that there were about 83,000 job openings in data science. 

“It’s a field that’s just exploding, and we want to prepare our kids,” he said. 

Cordaway said the data science course is based on work of Stanford University mathematics education professor Jo Boaler, who advocates for a model that teaches data science and restructures the calculus pathway so that it would not require students to begin a calculus track before reaching high school. 

Boaler, who has worked with other educators on a new mathematics framework for the State of California, argues that placing children in a track at a young age pushes students out of higher level mathematics and leads to “racial and social inequities.”

Critics of the new model say that it politicizes mathematics and would reduce accelerated options for gifted students. 

The Board of Education approved the data science program curriculum at its June 13 meeting. The program will cost the district $4,000 to train two teachers to lead the instruction, and the course will be available in 2024-25. 

Not all parents are in favor of the changes. A number of parents at the June meeting told board members they were concerned about the new curriculum. Kelly Torgerson, the parent who started the petition, told CT Examiner that she is worried that the changes will mean that her youngest son, a rising 7th grader, will not be able to follow the same advanced mathematics path as his older sister — moving from pre-algebra in 7th grade and finishing calculus before graduating from high school. 

In a meeting on August 14, Daniels said that Algebra 1 would be available for 8th graders this year, and that they would take the class together with 8th grade math. Unlike most students, who take math for half a year, students who take Algebra 1 will take it for the full year, and it will replace “encore” classes like STEM, health or art. 

Daniels said that 2023-24 would be the last time that the old Algebra curriculum would be offered at Beman. She said the new plan would be rolled out sometime this coming year, but reassured parents that mathematics enrichment would still be available, but that it may take a different form.

Torgerson has highlighted the potential changes to Algebra I and Geometry as some of her primary concerns, as well as questions about where Algebra II would fall in the curriculum. 

Parents also expressed frustration with what the petition claims is a lack of communication with parents. 

“The questions and concerns of parents and caregivers have been largely ignored.  Public forums with open Q & A have been extremely limited.  The public concern of parents regarding how Algebra has been treated at the Middle School level since the 2019-2020 removal of accelerated math have been completely ignored and/or swept under the rug,” the petition reads.

During the June Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Alberto Vasquez-Matos said that the district was not “watering down the curriculum” and that Algebra II had always been an available option. In an August letter to families, Vasquez-Matos also reassured parents that the change to the math curriculum was still in its early stages, and that there would be more opportunities for parents, teachers and students to offer feedback this year. 

But Torgerson remains concerned.

She said that between COVID and the change in curriculum she had decided to homeschool her older child. He is a junior, and Torgerson said this year he will be taking calculus.

“I’m going to teach him algebra if the schools won’t,” she said of her younger son. 

The district did not provide answers to direct questions from CT Examiner prior to the publication of this story, but Communications Director Jessie Lavorgna said the district would soon post a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the new curriculum on its website.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.