Math Program at Berkeley High

Hello.  Mom of incoming 9th grade freshman here.  I'm getting cold feet about the Math program at Berkeley High.  My daughter will not be able to enter the Advanced Math class from the start as the school is only designating a single test day before school begins, in the summer, when we and presumably many others will be out of town.  The only way around this is to test during the first two weeks of school when they will again schedule a test.  But that timing is of course not at all optimal with all the stress and newness of starting a new school.  We aren't coming in from a BUSD school and it will be a big change.  I've tried writing the powers that be to request another date somehow and am not getting anywhere.  I know its a big school and they can't accomodate every need but I think it is a reasonable request and I'm getting a "don't care" attitude which is making me wonder if my kid will thrive there.  For those who have had kids with advanced math skills, how has the math program been for you?  Was the Math taught high enough to qualify for the more selective colleges?

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

Honestly, I think your concerns will probably extend beyond the math program given your questions and expectation about responsiveness. BHS is a massive school with huge bureaucratic inadequacies and limitations so this is the first of many of these challenges of this type you will face (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). My son is a 9th grader and tested into Advanced Math after taking the test in spring/summer (it was after school during the school year last year). He's done really well in the class this year; the curriculum is challenging and the students are really quite gifted.  I'd note that it's accelerated curriculum and relatively high stress from the get go. For this reason, I think the test in the few weeks of school would probably be a good barometer for eventual comfort in the class. Additionally, I believe the teacher purposefully tried to set a high bar in the first two months to ensure kids were ready for the work; a number of kids dropped out. However, right before Back-to-School night (in late Sept?) some students did transfer in - not sure if it was from the test or their initial work in the standard math classes (so maybe the test isn't the only option?)  Please carefully consider whether or not BHS can meet your expectations for you, your kid, and for the staff's benefit. 


I believe BHS is phasing out the advanced math program, but I'm not sure when. My kids aren't in it, but we know some who are. It just goes faster than regular math (it isn't some advanced curriculum) and I believe you only end up one semester ahead of everyone else. Advanced math kids take AP Calc B/C as seniors whereas regular math kids can place into AP Calc A/B. As for BHS, it is a VERY large school (3200+) and they just can't accommodate requests like this. Taking it during the first week or two of school should be fine. Things don't really settle down until after that anyway. A lot of kids rearrange their schedules in the first few weeks, so that isn't a big deal. If you are coming from a very small school that has been accommodating, BHS will be a bit hard to navigate. They don't help you out much (I'm saying this as a parent who has been there since 2018). 


I have so many thoughts on this but here’s my quick reply.

BHS as a whole “does not care” in that with so many students and so many challenges accommodating your child to get into advanced math is not a priority for them. You have to push and push and push to get any support for your child and even then it’s going to be hard road.  Yes there are individuals (mainly teachers) who are amazing and supportive but admin accommodations or counselor support is lacking at best.  

The math program and math policy at BHS is just plain awful.  Most of the teachers are terrible (both regular track and andvanced) and the policy of refusing to let more advanced kids excel faster does absolutely put your kid at a disadvantage compared to peers at other high schools. 

Will it hold your kid back from getting into a selective college? No, I don’t think so.  Just follow the BHS college decisions IG account to see where all the seniors are headed next year.  Somehow kids make it work despite all these challenges and come out stronger for it. Colleges are also well aware of BHS deficiencies. 

If your child finds that advanced math is not challenging enough, you must take matters into your own hands.  Mine took classes at city college, used Kahn academy and other online programs. 




 We are right there with you on frustrations! We transferred into the district last summer from NY and tied so hard to get the admin to budge, but no luck. Her choice was to either repeat TWO YEARS of math or take community college Calc. So, she ended up having to sacrifice soccer to take math T&Th all year. Then when it came time to sign up for next year, the wouldn’t let her take AP Statistics bc it’s only for seniors!! Unbelievable! Her councilor suggested ceramics instead of math…. Since she wants to get into an elite college she decided to take CS in place of math. BHS definitely does not encourage kids to excel at math! If you are in the area, I suggest you bring your child to BHS tomorrow (5/2) at 4pm and take the advanced placement test for incoming 9th graders. Good luck!


My student went through advance math at BHS and is currently in a top ivy league college studying STEM. Looking back, BHS advance math is perhaps the best thing that happened to her in her entire career at BHS.  Despite what people say about BHS advance math, it is THE BEST THING BHS ever offers.  Not only the teachers cared deeply about the students and were highly responsible, they actually teach math the right way---not your memorization and plugging  in the numbers into the formulas, but really how to think math.  In the AP Calculus BC, Mr Weitz focused on doing proofs, just like what UC Berkeley wants its math students to learn, and he taught them quite a bit of multivariable calculus, not just simple AP calculus. His curriculum is much more advanced than AP calculus.  My student realized how well prepared she was by Mr Weitz only after she took the multivariable calc and linear algebra in college together with students from other famous bay area high schools who have taken multivariable calc officially, and she did better than most of those students.  So it is not the title of the course that matters, it is how it is taught.  BHS math got a bad rap because it actually teaches to the top and at a very high level, and most students just could not keep up as the math taught in public elementary and middle schools were so bad unfortunately. There were many amazing little genius in the advance math class in our years, and they really wanted to learn. Just being in that environment was amazing.  As my student put it, walking into the advance math class everyday was like "stepping into a different world with a breath of fresh air, leaving BHS behind".  

OK, it was quite a struggle getting through the initial barrier.  We transfered from a private school at 10th grade and had to take a special placement test in order to get into advance math with only one chance.  Like you, I felt that the initial response I got from BHS officials were cold and bureaucratic.  But after meeting the math teachers in person, especially Ms Kori Austera who is a head of the math department and teaches advance math 3 at 11th grade, it was not that bad. She was quite approachable and trying to be helpful.  So please email her, and she always responded quickly in my experience. We went through advance math 2 all the way to AP Calc BC, and liked every teachers we had including Ms Austera and Mr Weitz.  Perhaps we were lucky, but in general, advance math has great teachers who care.  Some of the regular math teachers were just a joke (they should not be allowed to teach, period).  So if you can, get into advance math. There your student will meet a complete different cohort of kids who love learning and who encourage each other to do better. Keep trying and good luck !


Just a data point. I think the first issue is that your child is not coming from within BUSD. I have a freshman at Albany High. Placement in advanced math in 9th grade was by recommendation of the 8th grade AMS math teacher. Sounds like maybe that is similar, or maybe the 8th grade teacher recommends the student take the spring placement test. The summer placement test at Albany High is already the "make-up" test for students who are new to the district (there is no spring placement test - it is JUST by teacher rec). They wouldn't see a need to do a fall placement test since there's already been two opportunities to get into advanced math.

I think if getting your daughter into advanced math is equally important to her and to you, you need to change your summer plans to be at the summer placement test.


OP here.  THANK YOU for all the detailed honest replies.  Coginitively I was aware that moving from a small private school to a large public school, and a notoriously fossilized Berkeley High would be a shift.  But until I experienced it myself I couldn't really prepare myself on how to deal with it.  I still don't know how to deal with it.  But the shock has passed and I'm thinking more proactively on how to support my child on the things I can and let go of the things I can't change.  By the way as an aside, just found out they have Freshman orientation the Friday before they start school.  I'm wondering when they were planning to tell us.  It's going to be a lot of things like that and I'm slowly slowly adjusting.  It looks like the math issues probably won't hold her back in terms of university acceptance.  But I do want her to continue enjoying math and I guess I'm going to just wait for the luck of the draw and hope we get the right teachers.  Anyways, this is all a lot of excellent information and I feel more prepared now.  Thanks for coming through.