Meeting Summary of Berkeley High PTSA Math Discussion on April 18, 2018

This meeting was attended by the Vice Principal for math, Felicia Phillips, math lead teachers Nakia Baird and Dr. Kate Garfinkel, the PTSA President Maria Rohlsson, PTSA Treasurer Mimi Pulich, PTSA Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Ramona Coates, PTSA Vice President Orlando Williams, and approximately 45-50 parents.
For the benefit of many parents who could not attend but are interested in Berkeley High math, Donna Storey, the AC Advisory Council Secretary from 2014-2017 provided this summary based notes she took during the meeting. “During the meeting I endeavored to record the main points mentioned by each speaker to the best of my ability, but I may have missed something. I invite any speaker who would like to make a factual correction to contact me.” Donna Storey, dgs1261@gmail.com.
The meeting began with Donna Storey, who also moderates the Berkeley High Parent Advocate website https://bhsparentadvocate.wordpress.com/ announcing a SurveyMonkey survey that is soliciting feedback from parents about their students’ experiences in math at Berkeley High: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FFSMDXC  The PTSA encourages all parents to take this survey.

To give parents a perspective on the current situation, Donna distributed a handout with two tables of D/F Rates in Math for the past 2 semesters at BHS, which was included in BUSD’s March 22, 2017 Report to the School Board (this handout is included at the end of this summary). Donna then shared information about an EdReports review of the curriculum used at Berkeley High, the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP). More information about it is at the end of this summary: https://www.edreports.org/math/mathematics-vision-project-2016/high-school.html

Mimi Pulich, who represents Berkeley High School on the LCAP PAC, said that to help implement the Common Core curriculum, in recent years LCAP has funded the BHS math coach, which is a TSA (teacher on special assignment) position. The current recommendation is to apply these LCAP funds towards a new 2-year Universal 9th Grade "Math Coordinator" position instead. Having an administrator instead of a TSA one should empower this Math Coordinator with the authority to establish uniform teaching practices and support methods across the 9th grade math teachers.  

The Q&A period began:

Parent #1 noted that the failure rate in math was high (according to the handout) and asked if specific teachers or specific math units had a higher failure rate than others. She asked if the math department was concerned and what they were doing about it.

Mr. Baird replied with a summary of the previous situation in math before the 2015-2016 school year with many different levels of entry, including freshmen repeating Algebra I and accelerated students taking Honors Algebra II. Teachers prefer having all freshmen together in Math 1 or Advanced Math 1 for equity. In his view, the sorting system in the past was inequitable because of the huge spread that led to a “cycle of failure,” especially for students of color. The removal of peers from the classroom with the previous diversity of classes leads to lack of success, in his estimation. The shift to changing the curriculum was a major undertaking. Teachers aren’t happy about the failure rate, but it’s difficult to implement a new curriculum. He stated that embedded assessments show students are improving; in his experience in the classroom things are improving. He asked, “What are we going to do together to help students?”

Parent #2 explained that both of her students enjoyed math in middle school and felt they had a helpful website and a roadmap to follow. She said that parents need a roadmap to help students at home. Her 9th grader was an A student in middle school and can’t get it (math 1) now. It is not just students of color failing, all students are failing. At Berkeley High, they have no roadmap to give them some level of confidence in math. Where are the resources? She teaches statistics at the college level and creates an environment where the students are excited about the material and find it relevant to their lives. She spends most of her college class time getting students to believe they CAN do math after and because of their high school experience. She praised one Berkeley High math unit that used the movie Hidden Figures as an inspiration for the lesson—hopefully there would be more of that.

Mr. Baird told the audience to try to get 30 teens motivated: how do you do that? He said that Common Core hasn’t “changed math.” He encouraged students to go to the tutoring offered by math teachers after school, embrace the struggle, and let parents let their students fail and deal with that. Parent #2 replied that her students do attend after school tutoring and visit their math teacher at lunch and it hasn’t fully addressed their issue.

Parent #3 said there's a lot of inconsistency in math classroom instruction. Based on what parents say about their kids' experiences, it appears that if you have a good teacher your kid excels, if not, they struggle. Math tests are "formative" (meaning that the teachers create them) and they are individual to each teacher. Consequently BHS doesn't have objective measures of student performance; only one standardized test is taken during high school, the SBA test in 11th grade. Mr. Baird said that the teachers give common pre-assessments and a common assessment at the end of the year. Parent #3 clarified that she was referring to tests in class that form the basis of student grades vs those used for diagnostic purposes.
 
Dr. Garfinkel said that the final exam in math is the same for all classes in a course (to be verified). Parent #3 suggested that these final test scores are a better and more objective way to assess actual student performance than student grades, which are subjective.

Dr. Garfinkel said the teachers all work hard and want the students to succeed. She spoke about the extra funding when Math 1 and 2 were launched which gave teachers a daily extra free period to meet, collaborate, and change instruction based on what they were seeing in class. She said the module exams are similar. She said that BHS was not given this funding to help launch Math 3 (2017-18 is the first year its being taught). Teachers do discuss the new Math 3 curriculum in their professional development meetings, but weeks can go by between meetings. The state dictates what they teach and at what rate. Teachers are seeing huge growth in pre- and post-assessments even if the students don’t pass the class.

VP Phillips added that they are trying to make sure that Math 1 and Math 2 build the skills appropriately for Math 3. They’re trying to figure out where the holes are. They are in the midst of a transition and the state only assesses students in math once in high school (in 11th grade according to https://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sa/practicetest.asp).

The meeting then changed to hear all parent concerns and questions at once with an answer section after.

Parent #4 said that we know it’s hard for teachers and they are working a lot, however, she is concerned about Math 3. The class of 2019 is a guinea pig class. Her student is failing and is not a challenged math student. She came to the meeting as a representative of her student and five other families. The students are devastated about their college futures because of the grades they’re receiving in Math 3. They have lost their self-confidence in math. Is there any way to help them?

Parent #5 is a ninth-grade parent in AC. Her student’s math teacher is working well with her and they like him. Failure is important, but success must follow. Each math teacher at Berkeley High evaluates students in different ways: tests, group projects, individual projects and homework. Some offer extra credit if you do test problems you missed at home, others do not. In order to support the “failure to success” trajectory, students should be allowed to test to mastery. She suggested that various methods of measuring learning and mastery be used equally across teachers.

Parent #6 agrees that it would be an improvement to equalize the information, materials, and resources that students have. Right now some students have more support from teachers. Some have much less.

Parent #7 supported mastery learning as well as consistency. Her student had over 100% on tests but got a much lower grade because the teacher counted “participation” as 75% of the grade. Longfellow was very good at promoting a growth mindset, but her student stopped loving math in high school. There is a local tutoring industry built around particular BHS math teachers. A lot of students drop down from advanced math and then are bored in regular math.

Parent #8’s student was enthusiastic about math until 10th and 11th grade. He needs examples that he can review. He needs written materials that he can review. This parent spent 3 or 4 hours a week on Khan Academy to teach him. This year he has a good teacher, but still misses having resource materials such as fact sheets. The videos on the math department’s website help, but Parent #8 worries about calculus. Is there a textbook? (As of now, Berkeley High calculus classes use textbooks.)

Parent #9 says the main sticking point in helping her student is that the terminology has changed. There is no glossary, explanation or help to look it up. This parent asked the teacher how to look things up when you have a problem, and he said, “You don’t. It’s an experiential learning process.”

Parent #10 said that student performance in math is a longstanding problem. When Pasquale Scuderi was principal in 2011, he identified math as the top issue needing improvement at Berkeley High. We need leadership to assess pedagogy. We need student evaluations, which are the most constructive tool for a teacher. We need a standardized way to assess what is going on in the classroom. We need transparent data. Whatever it takes we need to come together, not make apologies, and turn this around.

The PTSA Vice President, Orlando Williams, noted that the attendance at the meeting was a record high. Parents clearly care deeply about this issue. He said that parents need accountability from teachers and the administration. He hopes they will listen and act.

Teacher and VP responses to Parents #4 through #10:

Dr. Garfinkel said teachers have had conversations about grading and retake policies, but teachers cannot make other teachers do things differently. They try to convince others, but they have no power to mandate anything. Dr. Garfinkel also said that Math 3 does not have test retakes or corrections because retakes are often not allowed in college. In response to parents asking to see consistency in grading, VP Phillips said that the California Education Code clearly states that grading is the teachers’ domain and standards cannot be imposed on teachers.

A Berkeley High student commented that he was in 11th grade, not college, and that some college classes allow retakes and corrections. He said that in his Math 3 class they are frequently tested on new material introduced only 24 hours before the exam. He said it is not fair to have different policies for different classrooms.

Mr. Baird said that there is inconsistency because there are a lot of teachers (24). He has heard some of these things before and is trying to solve a lot of problems.

The PTSA president asked if the teachers liked the curriculum and felt it was working. VP Phillips said the School Board chose MVP as Berkeley High’s Common-Core-aligned curriculum; the state did mandate that schools use a Common-Core-aligned curriculum (Donna Storey will follow-up with the School Board on the selection process for a specific curriculum and if selecting MVP involved any recommendations from teachers). VP Phillips stated that BHS is sticking with the curriculum and further stated that MVP gives students the opportunity to struggle with real-world material and said they ask themselves “How do we support students at varying levels?”
Dr. Garfinkel reviewed the “Ready, Set, Go” approach and said the teachers are putting a lot of thought into what they are doing. She knows they need to be more aligned and would “love to do that.”

VP Phillips talked about Math 3 remediation, which is her purview. She is working with the guidance counselors to understand how the failure rate in Math 3 will work with the UC requirements, called “validation.” If a student has a grade below a C in the first semester, if s/he gets a C or higher the second semester, that validates the student having taken and passed a third year of math. However, this doesn’t change the fact the student has a D or F and it will tank his/her GPA. Thus, the class is valid as a requirement for college admission, but the student’s GPA is still significantly lower.

VP Phillips is looking at holding a Math 3 summer school on the Berkeley High campus, and exploring courses for next year or at Berkeley City College that will be the equivalent of Math 3. They are trying to better align the math curriculum with math at the community colleges. Ms. Phillips said there are actually written materials for the MVP curriculum: the MVP packet. There are no answers with the MVP packets. There an in-class supports and out-of-class supports such as tutoring on campus by math teachers. They cannot mandate how teachers are evaluated or how a teacher splits his/her grades. They make sure teachers are using best practices.

VP Phillips admitted that the math department could better articulate how to interact with resources. VP Phillips is also discussing with Dr. Garfinkel what they can do to help Math 3 students. She introduced Zeph Landau who would speak on ways parents can get involved.

Comments by Zeph Landau, Math-Parent Liaison

Dr. Landau is trying to improve the math department’s website: https://sites.google.com/berkeley.net/mathematicsdepartment

He’d appreciate parents telling him what is working and not working with the website. He also created his own website, Berkeley High Math Assist (https://sites.google.com/site/bhsmathassist/home)

Berkeley High Math Assist has materials for Math 1 and 2, but not Math 3. Dr. Landau offered to help anyone who is struggling in Math 3. You can contact him through the Math Assist website. It is hard for parents, who only have to consider their children, to appreciate the huge range of students that Berkeley High teachers have to deal with. Dr. Landau added that because of the lack of funding, the math teachers have to do triage.

The meeting ran late and ended around 8:50.

Information on EdReports review of the Mathematics Vision Project used at Berkeley High:

EdReports identifies key problems, in particular, lack of guidance for remediation of differing entry levels of mastery and a weakness in providing differentiated instruction for different learning styles.

This is the specific report on MVP in full:

https://www.edreports.org/math/mathematics-vision-project-2016/high-school.html

In the Usability section, Gateway 3, items 3m, 3o, and 3p.ii explain how the program partially meets expectations to gather information about students’ prior knowledge and providing guidance for remediation. Obviously with the achievement gap, this is a crucial concern for Berkeley High.

Item 3u says MVP materials “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.” The other main area is 3r-y, which “doesn’t meet expectations for differentiated instruction for diverse learners.” Both areas are  key for a diverse community such as BUSD’s. 

Donna Storey distributed a handout at the begining of the meeting that showed that 25% of Math 1 and Math 2 students have gotten a D/F for the past 2 semesters.
D/F Rates for Math at Berkeley High (Semester 2 - 16-17 and Semester 1 - 17-18 from Charles Burress)

 

Course

Semester 2, 2016-17

Semester 1, 2017-18

Math 1

28.4%

25.4%

Math 2

25.2%

26.7%

Math 3

--- (not yet offered)

18.1%

 
DF rates are based on all students enrolled in courses regardless of grade level and include students repeating courses.