My math teachers at Doherty Middle School (and all of my teachers there, for that matter) were fantastic. They were dedicated, hard-working, and frequently stayed far past their mandated times for the sole benefit of their students. To say that our dropping performances on standardized examinations is their fault could not be farther from the truth.
The true reason for this problem can be summed up in a simple analogy: Say that you know a carpenter, the most talented carpenter in the world, and you tell him to build you a chair. However, to build the structure, you provide him with only rotted wood and rusty nails. Only a true fool would sit in that chair and be surprised that it collapses.
Now, what is that rotted wood? Our middle school math curriculum. It could not possibly be more short-sighted and rapidly rotting. A good portion of students sit in that chair and break it.
When I was in elementary school, I was being given extra math work, and was due to be placed on an accelerated path. This failed to happen on account of the administration’s revelation that all students in Andover are special. If this is the case, then why are we treating Andover kids as so much less?
The insistence on single-level classes at the middle school level, especially in mathematics, could not be a larger pedagogical mistake! Of course talented students could soar: cover up to five years of mathematics in the three years of middle school (6th grade algebra 1, 7th grade geometry, 8th grade algebra 2/precalculus mathematics), allowing for a clear path to take the BC Advanced Placement calculus examination in their sophomore year of high school, and even to go farther into abstract algebra or multivariable calculus as juniors and seniors. If that would not prepare you adequately for MCAS, I don’t know what would. Furthermore, students would be more prepared for calculus, having a full algebra 1 sequence in middle school as opposed to the current, severely truncated one that only teaches to the bare requirements of the shortsighted standardized tests that Massachusetts is asphyxiating our public schools with.
Treat those less talented students as equally special: give them material that suits their needs, prepares them fully for state tests, and allows them to achieve in high school (their teachers will not be distracted by those other students who want to get ahead as so many desperately do).
Everybody would benefit from this system. Andover High School would benefit greatly, receiving better prepared students (with far fewer holes in their math education) who will do better in calculus, on the SAT, and later on in college. AP and MCAS scores would increase, and our declining school would be on the rise again. But do you know the best part? It wouldn’t cost any more than the gas money to drive geometry and precalculus textbooks from the high school to the middle schools.
It is time for the Andover Public Schools to stop settling for the status quo, and it really is as simple as treating students as exactly how they are: special.
7 Beech Circle