Honors Algebra at BHS

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Take Honors Algebra sophomore year?

May 2000

I have a ninth grade son who is in Honors Geometry and would like information from parents whose children have gone onto Algebra with the honors option vs Honors Algebra. I am concerned about his 10th grade course load with AP Chemistry, Spanish 7 and Honors Algebra in addition to History, English and electives. Perhaps the lighter Algebra with the Honors option is a better choice. Any experiences or perspectives would be appreciated. Also, how does one sign up for Algebra with Honors option?

To the parent interested in Honors Algebra: My son is very good in math and took the exam as a 9th grader for taking A2honors as a freshman. He was off that day and entered a non honors class. His teacher had him tutoring and helping teach the class. His teacher recommended him for A2 Honors second semester and he took it with no problems and TAed for his first teacher. Many of the juniors in his class paid him to tutor them for their finals. It is not difficult if your son has a math apptitude. He will be bored in the non Honors class.

Should son switch from honors to regular algebra?

Nov 2000

I am interested in others experiences and advice re Honors's Algebra at BHS. My son, a sophomore, is struggling with this course and the instructor. He completed Honors Geometry last year with a B and is otherwise an A student. He now has a C in Honors Algebra but not a lot of slack in the event that he would bomb a test. The instructor seems rather caustic and punative, a man who seems to know more about math than about teaching. We have provided tutoring, homework support, discussion, and encouragement so far. Should we be doing more? My son does not want us to speak with the teacher for fear that it would make matters worse and given what he has shared with us, I am inclined to believe him. Is it possible to transfer to a regular Algebra class at this point? Would this be better than risking a D in the class? Also, can he move to a regular Algebra class next semester? He is doggedly trying to stick it out and perhaps we should just respect that and see what happens. How important are the Honors classes vs regular Algebra in terms of college? Who would be a good resource person to discuss these concerns at BHS? All advice much appreciated. For privacy issues, am signing anonymous. Thanks

My sympathies to your son. It is admirable that he is sticking in there with a "difficult" teacher but I think he may have more options. The one I would recommend is that you both talk to his counselor about finding him a more compatible class if not for this semester for next. The magic words seem to be "this teacher (or classroom) is not appropriate for my son," or something equivalent. It is possible to be in a regular Algebra II class and get honors credit by doing extra homework (including 4 hours of tutoring a semester) and taking the honors tests. My daughter is doing this with Mr. Fritzenger (sp.) and is doing very well and liking the class. I don't know how much weight colleges put on Honors classes. I've heard that they like to know that the student is capable of doing college level work and that the grade doesn't matter so much but obviously a C will pull down your child's overall GPA a bit (I think the UC's count it as a B but not BHS). But as a parent whose child got in to UC Berkeley with a 3. something GPA I wouldn't worry about it too much. I think it is far more important that your son's suffering is stopped and that he be in a class where he can enjoy learning! Good luck! G

My son has also had a hard time in Honors Algebra 2. Apparently, his teacher's tests are very difficult (according to my son!). So when my son's test grades dip, we respond by sending him to a math tutor. He sees her just once before a test. She reviews his past tests, quizzes and homework, rapidly assesses where he needs help and manages to tutor him in what he needs, all within an hour. With kids in honors math, it doesn't take much to get them back up to speed. You can get a list of math tutors from the BHS math department or from your son's teacher. -D.H.

Our child was in Honors Geometry last year. Our child has always been a bright and enthusiastic student, but was having significant difficulties in this class. Our child complained to us that the teacher was not clearly conveying the concepts, was not answering the students' questions, and was berating the students for being "stupid" and "not Honors material." At some point, the teacher was put on administrative leave due to charges of sexual misconduct. He later returned because the charges were dropped, due to insufficient evidence. We, however, looked into this person's history and found enough, in our opinion, to convince us that the class was not a safe place for our child. Although there were two other Honors Geometry teachers, we were not given a choice; our child would have to move to the Honors Geometry taught by a teacher we understood to be quite unfair, and very negative. We finally opted to have our child transfer to regular Geometry. That worked quite well. The teacher respected the students and explained things clearly. Although this class covered less material than the Honors Geometry class covered, our child learned better because of the quality of teaching, got better grades and enjoyed math again. Our child now is in Honors Algebra and doing pretty well. Be aware that to go from regular Geometry to Honors Algebra II students have to take a test, and my understanding is that not too many students pass the test. Also, it might be good to know that our child feels alot of the work in Honors Algebra II is irrelevant to life. So it is important to know where your child's interests lie. If he is planning to go into math or science, he might want to do things differently than if his interest is elsewhere.

In terms of the long-range effects of Honors Algebra or regular Algebra, it might be good to talk to the counselor. I don't know who your child's counselor is and cannot give feedback on any of the counselors, except Miss Antonuccio (freshman counselor), who was extremely helpful to us last year. I would even consider talking with Rory Bled, whom I also recommend as a wonderful counselor, since you are concerned about long-term effects, i.e., college. I suspect the importance of Honors vs regular would depend on where your child is headed.

My daughter managed a "B" in Honors Geometry and was getting a "C" in Honors Algebra II and the teacher told her that she absolutely had to drop the class, although as far as I could tell, she didn't negatively impact the class. I was quite annoyed, because I thought BHS was trying to encourage students to stretch and grow educationally. But apparently the math department at that time had a different idea. Eventually my daughter got an "A" in Algebra II and took the 4th year math IMP which she throughly enjoyed. The teacher seemed much more supportive of the students. She is currently attending college and firmly believes that she does poorly in math. So your child can have a life after changing math classes. Miriam

I have a suspicion which math teacher your sophmore has and I would highly encourage him exiting the class based on our experience last year. On a more constructive note...in the regular algebra 2 classes, a student can opt to do an honors track within the class. This requires doing more homework that those that opt for the nonhonors track and taking the same exams as the students in the straight honors classes. If the student's grades reflect a lack of success with the honors option, they can opt (according to my student at any time) to shift to regular algebra 2. R.S.

I want to express my appreciation for all who responded re the Honors Algebra dilemma. It helped us get a better perspective and I am following up on many of the suggestions. It's great to have this community of parents as a resource! Will remain anon. due to privacy concerns for student. Thanks.

I would like to reply to the parent who wrote in about honors algebra. My daughter has had exactly the same experience. In fact, I am well aware of the identity of this teacher that you mention. She was also an A student but ran up against this teacher's "caustic and punitive" attitude, as you so aptly put it. She finished the year with a B, which we have heard is a good grade from this teacher; but her attitude towards math is now very negative. She says, "I used to be good in math." This year in honors algebra, she has a different teacher; however, this man also has a negative attitude toward the students. She is more comfortable in his class, but once again, the tests are very hard, and she doesn't feel she has adequately prepared for them simply by doing the classroom assignments. She has some very bright friends who are also not doing as well as they would like.

I am afraid I can't help you with any of your questions. I mainly just wanted you to know that your son is not alone. We are planning to get some enrichment tutoring for our daughter. I don't know if that will help, but we are willing to give it a try. To us, her attitude is much more important than her grade. I am surprised at Berkeley High. I have encountered several students of color who had to drop out of the honors math courses. I would expect BHS to provide more support for students who, historically, do not excel at these courses.

In response to the discussion about math-honors, etc. at BHS. Our experience was this. Our daughter did not test high enough in 7th grade to get into the honors Algebra I at King Middle School. But she really wanted to give it a go and got permission from her teacher to try it out. By June, struggling all year with private tutoring, she ended up getting through it but not with the necessary grade to go on to Honors Grometry which was very fine with me. I too had been in an advanced math class at that age, had done very poorly, became convinced I could not to math and dropped the subject as soon as minimum requirements were filled. My daughter then went into regular Geometry and did very well (these branches of math are very different and often one area is hard for someone and the other quite easy-more intuitive or something). Now it is sophomore year. Algebra II (regular) performance OK. Next step is Math Analysis-oh boy! Now I have no idea what the teacher is even referring to at the Back-to-School meeting. She does OK first semester, is absolutely bombing the second semester. Tutoring like crazy keeps her just above water and she squeaks out a C. Her teacher tells me when I remark that my daughter is normally an A student, and she really would like to do better than a C, tells me that at this point in the math sequence of classes, the stuff really is above many of the kids' capabilites. The kicker comes when he tells me that there is a certain maturity necessary to understand this stuff (and he is talking developmentally) that can help some kids who are not mathematically inclined "get" the material. Since my child is only a junior, this is really working against her. Now we come to senior year. We have been told in a prior conversation with the head of the math dept. at BHS that colleges like to see math on the kid's schedule all four years in high school. So what does my daughter take? She is a year ahead of herself because she tried her best in 8th grade! Her choices now are AP Calculus, Honors Calculus, or AP Statistics. The tutor she had for math analysis cannot tutor the statistics- it is too much for him without re-learning the course! After panic (she could not even make a stab at the homework because she was so lost, and this was only Septmenber) , we made numerous calls to colleges that she was interested in to find out how disastrous it would be for her to drop math altogether. After reassurances from UC Santa Cruz, that the sequence of four years of high school math had been completed as far as they were concerned, and from a couple of small liberal arts schools in the East that basically said the same thing, we let her drop math. She has an honors science class along with three other "academic" subjects, and although it is obviously too early to know about college acceptances, we feel it was absouletly the best decision. What was the rush to take Algebra I anyway? It did nothing but mess up a kid who did beautifully in the regular track, and was just not able to keep up later when had she needed more maturity. So, another point of view. Nothing wrong with the regular math track. As a matter of fact, when we first got into this, the head of the math department at BHS told us he was trying to discourage Algebra I from being given to the eighth graders, especially since it is an even more rigorous course than the standard Algebra I offered at the high school level. Please save me from embarrasing my daughter and post this anonymously.

Re Honors Algebra: My daughter had a similar experience with a teacher who didn't teach. In discussion with him, he said kids in his class were smart enough that they should be working things out on their own. After talking to several students in the class, my impression was that he was a mathematician, not a teacher. About a third of the class dropped it after the first semester. My daughter decided to stay and struggled through the next semester with a tutor, getting a C. Teaching never improved. Now she attends a great college and I don't think her life would have been ruined by dropping the class. It was also not ruined by getting the C. The person who tutored my kid was a BHS senior. She was excellent. They met in the Berkeley library after school. I would suggest talking to Ms. Leventer, the head of the math department, whom I greatly respect. Good luck.

BHS Math Dept Response:

    I want to begin by saying that Honors Math classes are not for every child.  Many students who don't even like Math sign up for them because they want the extra point UC offers.  An Honors class should be challenging, indeed UC requires it to have different standards and prerequisites to qualify for that extra point.  All of our non-Honors classes meet the state's challenging standards, while the Honors ones go above and beyond.  The student who questioned the relevance is in a way correct for the material is for those who love Math and want to go on with Math, Science, Engineering, etc., it is NOT designed for someone who is good at math but doesn't enjoy it or who plans to do nothing with it in the future.        

Students who chose to be in an Honors class must stay there for the semester.  There are no changes at this point of the semester (we are 2/3 through!!).  If a student is struggling I encourage him/her to    a) go to your teacher for extra help - every teacher is available at some point during the day and this person knows your weaknesses in the class the best   b) if you don't relate to him/her go to a different teacher who teaches the same subject   c) go to one of the tutorials at lunch or after school -  there are BHS students, CAL students, and BHS teachers there who can help you.  There are signs posted in every math classroom.  d) form a study group - work with friends in your class or other classes, work together at one of the tutorials or somewhere where you are more comfortable  d) LAST RESORT - get a private tutor from the lists posted in every classroom.  You CAN switch to a non-Honors class at the semester, but be aware that this may disrupt your schedule somewhat and you will probably not get a choice as to which teacher you get - it will be based on class size (the smallest class).  You should see your counselor after the progress reports come out in December (this is when new classes will be created and changes will be made) who may send you to see me, the Math Chair.        

ATDP:  Students take a placement final exam with me after the summer class unless we know the teacher and the exact curriculum.  I have found that strong Math students are very well-prepared for the next class. However, I only recommend it for students who are ready to work and who catch on quickly.  ATDP is for TALENTED (thats what the T is) students, it covers one year of math in a mere 6 weeks!!   The material tends to be comparable to our Honors classes (depends on the instructor tho).  However, there is no extra point in the GPA since the course is not deemed honors.  The registrar decides whether to give credit, not the Math department.  Most math teachers would be happy to write the recommendation if given reasonable notice.        

Finally, I would like to make a plea that people not attack teachers who have high standards. Not every teacher is popular with every child.  As parents, we know that the grandparents are often loved "more" because they don't discipline.  The same goes for strict teachers.  Who is actually better serving the child?           As to the comments bordering on slander: please don't spread rumors when you don't have all the facts.  The district and the police were clearly satisfied.  Don't attempt to ruin someone's career because you choose to not have faith in our justice system.         Please feel free to call me with any questions about Honors or ATDP at 883-5204   Laura M. Leventer, Math Dept Chair (at Berkeley High)