As I watched one of the students I tutor fail Common Core Math 2 for the semester, I can’t help but ask myself, what did I do wrong? Another student, passed the class (with an A, I believe) but failed the exam (the teacher chose not to count the exam towards the course grade). Any quality teacher who has students “fail,” should ALWAYS ask themselves, “What changes do I need to make?”

So, I pondered this question. I looked at the type of student that each student was, the type of teacher each student had, the school each student attended, and the work we did together in our tutoring sessions. I was able to find my answer after these considerations.

The first piece of the puzzle comes from the type of student I worked with. One student was a student who spent many hours studying and lots of extra effort above and beyond our tutoring sessions. I also like to rank each student with how “easy” math comes to them. On a scale from 1 to 10, with a 1 representing a student who really struggles to grasp mathematical concepts, struggles with number sense, and just doesn’t have a logic / math brain to a 10 where the student just “gets” math without even trying, math just makes sense automatically and is like breathing, I will rank each student to provide prospective. This student is probably around a 7. The other student did not spend any time outside of our tutoring sessions working on math, didn’t really see doing well in math as a priority and ranks lower around a 5. She doesn’t get totally lost but can’t seem to put the ideas together and connect them. She also doesn’t spend time memorizing what is needed to do well.

The second piece of the puzzle comes from the school system, school and teachers these students have. Both students are in the same school system but at different schools. One school clearly has higher expectations than the other school and tends to ask harder questions on tests. Neither teacher seemed “terrible” or “good.” Neither teacher seemed to care too much about the success of their students based on my interactions / discussions with their families.

These previous two pieces certainly play a role in student success. From me, both students got the same help from me but students need to spend outside time studying, memorizing, and practicing problems to be successful. However, one of the biggest challenges I see is that the pace of the curriculum, especially since this school system uses block scheduling (math classes are 90 minutes a day and an entire math class is completed in 1/2 year). If you have a student who ranks a 7 or above, they can probably handle the pace of learning Common Core 2 in one semester but for students who struggle with math (especially for those with weak math backgrounds, poor number sense, poor study habits, etc.) expecting them to be able to pass Common Core Math 2 in one semester is akin to expecting someone to become an expert on Calculus in 10 days of lessons. There is only so fast someone can learn information and that is not being taken into consideration. Why aren’t we offering a Common Core Math 2A and 2B class for students who need to learn at a slower pace? They did this for Common Core Math 1 (in fact that is your only option in our county) but for Common Core Math 2, your only option is to learn the entire content in 1 semester. For bright / math minded students, it is a good option and should remain so that these students can move ahead and take AP Calculus and AP Statistics during high school but for the average or below average student (in mathematics), we need to offer math at a slower pace.

Currently, we pass students on with a D in Common Core 1 into this fast paced Common Core 2 class. Students with a D in Common Core 1, are not prepared to even take the content of Common Core math 2, let alone take it at the pace of 1 semester. Many of these D students were “gifted” their D’s as I have witnessed. I have students who can’t solve a basic linear equation on their own, couldn’t tell you the difference between linear, quadratic, and exponential equations, and couldn’t solve or graph any quadratics receive a D in the course and now I know they will be completely lost and unsuccessful in Common Core 2 because they do not have any of the prerequisite knowledge needed for success in Common Core 2. Yet, teachers continue to “pass” students along because they can’t “fail” too many students or they will get in trouble with the administration.

We seem to forget what the goal is. Do we want to just pass students along or do we want them to have an understanding of mathematics that makes them college ready? If we need to slow things down, allow students more time, allow students to repeat classes, then this is what we should do. We also continue to allow lateral entry teachers because we are short on math teachers, yet we don’t value them. Lateral entry teachers (and many current teachers) seem to lack the skills needed to help students learn how to study mathematics, another important step for success. Rarely do I see students come to me with a list of topics they will be covering, review sheets with problems and solutions that are representative of what they will be tested on for quizzes, tests, and finals. If students had these materials, they could learn more effective ways to prepare for mathematics assessments and be more successful instead most of my students have no idea what to expect on their assessments and no problems that are representative of what they are supposed to know and practice right before an exam.