Advice about Math at Berkeley High School

Parent Q&A

BHS math placement question Feb 25, 2019 (8 responses below)
Student trainees as full instructors in math at BHS Nov 24, 2018 (2 responses below)
AP Statistics or Math Studies at BHS? Feb 24, 2018 (3 responses below)
Advice on math at BHS Feb 7, 2018 (2 responses below)
Lack of Admin response at BHS Feb 7, 2018 (14 responses below)
Calculus AB or BC? Dec 7, 2016 (4 responses below)
  • BHS math placement question

    (8 replies)

    Hi, I am looking for advice from BHS parents on math placement.  We are moving to Berkeley, and my student will transfer to BHS at 10th grade.  He is looking to go into AC.  The dilemma we are having is regarding his math placement.  Per BHS rule, he has to go into Math 2 or advanced math 2.  But he is already doing math 2 (covering geometry, some algebra and trig) in his current school and will be doing Math 3 BC next year (10th grade) if he were to stay.  I understand that math 2 in different schools may not have the exact same content, but the major portion is similar.  He is a very strong math student and is already very bored in his math 2 class.  It would make no sense for him to repeat math 2 again next year at BHS.  Not only will it look bad on his transcript, but I also worry that he may lose motivation on math completely.  Currently BHS seems to be quite firm that no exceptions will be made to allow students at 10th grade to be placed into math 3, but on the course catalog they also say that they will try their best to place students into the level that suits them the best.  I am totally confused by these contradictory statements.  I am therefore seeking advice from families who have gone through similar issues in recent years as to what we can do to convince BHS to place him into advanced math 3 at 10th grade.  We are willing to take the placement test and have BHS math teachers review his current content.  Who in the math department at BHS might lend a sympathetic ear to us?  Are there anyone who have successfully convince BHS to place your students into an upper level of math recently?  What other options do we have?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  Worried mom.

    RE: BHS math placement question ()

    Advanced Math at BHS goes through the same curriculum as Math 1, 2 and 3 but at a faster pace. So Advanced Math 1 students (freshmen) work through all of Math 1 and begin working on Math 2 freshman year. Advanced Math 2 students, I believe, would begin work on Math 3 in 10th grade. So I would have your student take the test to get into Advanced Math 2 as it should cover concepts in Math 3 (and maybe Math 4?) in 10th grade. I am the parent of a freshman in Advanced Math 1 so I don't know too much about the curriculum in Advanced Math 2 in 10th grade but you could ask the math department for more clarity.

    RE: BHS math placement question ()

    Your child should take the math placement exam & you should request information about exactly how he does- I think they don’t like to be specific. If he aces the test you should pursue the math coordinator, VP who covers math, and principal until you get what your child needs. You can’t do this in advance. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease at BHS! Good luck!

    RE: BHS math placement question ()

    Put him in Advanced Math 2. I cannot say this strongly enough. He should not (and cannot) take Advanced Math 3 unless he has already taken Advanced Math 2. Advanced Math 2 has more content than regular Math 2 and goes into more depth. It is not said often enough, but Berkeley High is huge and the top 10% of the students are freaking brilliant. Since BHS doesn't let anyone advance past their grade level, the Sophomores in Advanced Math 2 are all exceptionally smart. In addition, the Advanced Math teachers are very difficult graders. The classes can be so difficult that the advanced math track has a huge attrition rate, i.e. super smart hardworking kids dropping down into regular math. If you put him in Advanced Math 2, he will be with some of the brainiest kids in his grade. If you put him in regular Math 3, he will be with mostly Juniors and some Seniors and then he will take Calc AB as a Junior and Calc BC as a Senior. If you put him in Advanced Math 2, he will take Advanced Math 3 as a Junior (which is a very difficult class) and then Calc BC as a Senior. The advanced math track skips Calc AB, so he ends up in the same place as a Senior either way. You should not put him in Advanced Math 3 as a Sophomore because he will be behind. I say this in all earnestness, and anyway, BHS will never allow it so don't waste your time. Worried mom, I get where you're coming from, but as someone who knows I want you to rest assured that his transcript will look great to colleges. They will see that he got through Calculus BC as a Senior, and remember that there are many other advanced classes that he can take throughout high school. BHS is an amazing school and he will be challenged, I promise!

  • SUPER frustrated.  Watched my daughter work hard for a semester using all resources offered to get the worst grade of her schooling.  Was in communication with the instructor, who kept saying she was improving.  Now we are also getting an outside tutor.  A few questions:

    1. If she doesn't get a final grade that is passing, is the only option to repeat at Berkeley High?  I would really prefer to not to have her do that.  Has anyone here had a child make up Math 1? 

    2. What summer math classes have kids taken and liked or benefited from?  I want her to be as well positioned as possible for Math 2. 

    3. Will a C or D in math in her freshman year ruin her chance of getting into a UC school?  If she improves?  If she stays the same?

    4. I think we have a tutor, but if it doesn't work, do you have suggestions for a tutor?

    5. Are there math teachers at BHS who you like?  Who are thought to be good?

    I see lots of unhappy with BHS math posts.  I join the ranks.    I now need next steps.

    First, I'm so sorry your daughter is having such a poor math experience at Berkeley High. The math department is a shambles.

    1. If she doesn't get a final grade that is passing, is the only option to repeat at Berkeley High?  I would really prefer to not to have her do that.  Has anyone here had a child make up Math 1? 

    I don't know. Last summer, there were plans to offer summer school for students who didn't pass math (D or F), but they cancelled at the last minute because they were unable to find anyone to teach the class. I don't know what happened to those students who didn't have a chance to re-take the course. If you have the resources, you might consider Tilden Prep one the summer. You will need to get approval from Berkeley High, first, though, so make sure you are following the correct procedures!

    3. Will a C or D in math in her freshman year ruin her chance of getting into a UC school?  If she improves?  If she stays the same?

    UC GPA is calculated using the student's 10th and 11th grades. For more information, look at the UC admissions page:

    http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/counselors/q-and-a/calculati...

    "How does UC calculate the GPA of a high school applicant who is a California resident?
    In calculating the GPA for admission consideration, UC uses all UC-approved “a-g” courses a student took between the summer before 10th grade through the summer following 11th grade. Additionally, UC will grant up to eight semesters (with no more than four semesters coming from 10th grade) of honors weight for grades of C or better in AP, IB, UC-approved Honors Level, and transferable college courses."

    I would talk with your student's academic and/or college counselor for more info about this too. 

    Both of my kids have had great tutors at Classroom Matters. They are very well aware of the math debacle at Berkeley High.

    I recommend you connect with the BHS Parent Advocate group online: https://bhsparentadvocate.wordpress.com/. Also, contact your child's teacher, counselor, and the BHS Math administrator about this. Good luck to you. 

    So sorry. Jasmine Mumford is a very dedicated teacher. My son went to the "math party" once but didn't find it helpful. Meeting with Ms. Mumford often at lunch and using a tutor weekly were helpful in improving his grade this semester from a D to a very low B.

    Good luck!

  • Hi all, I realize there is a lot of issues with the math program at BHS.  I am wondering if anyone has had experience with one particular issue of having a student instructor training for his/her math credentials being given a class to teach at BHS in place of the regular BHS teacher? My daughter's Math 2 class was informed first day of school this fall that they would be taught exclusively by a student getting his credentials per agreement with BHS and the student's accreditation program. The Math 2 students did not seem very happy with the instruction.  I am wondering if anyone in the community here could say if they have experienced the same situation, how common this is for a student-teacher to replace a regular faculty BHS math teacher, if this happens in other subjects, if they approached anyone to discuss this, etc.  Any info much appreciated.  I'd be happy to connect directly.  BHS parent

    My daughter had a student teacher as her main instructor for the second semester of her freshman year at BHS last year..... it may have even been for longer than just the second semester. The student teacher was there from the beginning of the year, along with the experienced BHS math teacher.

    I'm sure every student teacher is different, just as every BHS math teacher is different, but both the student teacher and the BHS math teacher my daughter had last year were amazing. She actually liked the student teacher even more and her enthusiasm and interest in math soared when he took over. Last year was a fantastic math year for her.

    This year she has a regular BHS math teacher who has been there for just a few years. She's extremely under-impressed. She's good at math, and for her the class is super easy. But she says the instruction is not good, so may not be working so well for all. Her enthusiasm for math has definitely waned this year.

    When he was about a quarter into freshman year, my son had a student teacher take over his period of digital photography. The teacher stayed in the room [mostly doing catch-up work], and it worked out great. because the student teacher had a very fresh and engaging style and was very knowledgeable about the curriculum. It doesn't really sound like this is your daughter's classroom experience, so now might be a good time to write a note to the vice-principal. Btw, I only ever got replies via email when I copied a bunch of folks: the principal, the academic counselor, and in your case, the actual teacher. Good luck.

  • AP Statistics or Math Studies at BHS?

    (3 replies)

    My son is an average math student who is choosing classes right now for his senior year at Berkeley High. He really wants to take Statistics, but they dropped the regular class awhile ago and now only offer the AP version. I would prefer he choose Math Studies, which looks like a pre-calculus class that builds on the sort of beginning pre-calc that junior year Math 3 represents. His teacher says he'd be better off in Math Studies, while the counselors suggested to him that AP Stats would be easier. It's certainly more interesting to him, as it's applied rather than theoretical, but students can't drop AP classes, and he has chosen an already tough schedule for next year. I don't want him, and by extension us, to have a hellacious year because of a bad math choice.  Any thoughts from people who have experience with either or both of these courses, and any ideas about who the teachers might be? By the way, he is one of the apparently few fortunate students who has had good math teachers so far, so it hasn't been about the teaching for him. 

    My advice is to let your student make the choice. If your student wants to take Stats, let him! Stats is pretty interesting and IMO more relevant than calculus for many students. I have heard that the AP stats teacher is good, too. My son took Math Studies his junior year and said it was super easy. He's not great at math and had bad experiences with the math department at BHS, so he skipped math senior year and did a proctor period instead. He set up his senior year schedule with a good balance of hard/easy so that he wouldn't burn out too badly (all seniors do!!). He was accepted at several colleges and is doing well his freshman year. Good luck!

    My daughter was fortunate enough to be able to drop her AP Stats class at BHS a few weeks ago and we're all breathing a sigh of relief.  She's actually a weak math student with a learning disability (which is probably why they let her drop) but we all felt she needed to have 4 years of math on her transcript to be eligible for some of her college choices.  Because of the way the BHS math department is set up, her only choices for credit were AP Stats and AP Calculus and Stats felt like the lesser of two evils (but was still miserable).  She struggled and had to negotiate alternate ways to pass the class, which fortunately she did.  We looked at many choices before signing her up for this class but none of them were viable for us (but might be for you).  Options were signing up for statistics at the junior college level (some weren't offering and some started before BHS finished their spring semester) and taking at Tilden Prep, which we couldn't afford.  If I were you, I'd choose Math Studies, but best of luck whichever way you go.

    Math Studies is a good choice for a student who wants a math course but doesn't want the pressure of an AP class. Math Studies reviews high school math topics and then does some introductory statistics, and very introductory calculus (polynomial derivatives.) After Math Studies he'll be able to either go into a Calculus course or a Stats course in college. It provides a good foundation for students who may have missed something along the way.

  • Advice on math at BHS

    (2 replies)

    My son is a sophomore at BHS and has Mr. Henri for Math 2. He had challenges in math last year due to illness and absences and he was unprepared for a teacher like Mr. Henri. Even spending hours each night working through the homework and class work he didn’t understand, he’s still barely passing. Does any who have advice on getting BHS to switch him to a new teacher or how to do the work in Henri’s class so he passes? 

    RE: Advice on math at BHS ()

    Hello. My daughter is a new student at BHS. She just completed her first semester of tenth grade. She was assigned Mr. Henri and was miserable and terrified. She worked hard and sought help frequently and repeatedly, but to no avail. She was doing poorly and her self-esteem was plummeting. She did not feel particularly seen or heard by Mr. Henri, and that's putting it mildly. She went to her counselor and said she needed a different math class and was granted one, albeit, one class "back" (or the next level down) which seemed to be appropriate for her. She got an A. She wouldn't wish Mr. Henri upon her worst enemy. 

    RE: Advice on math at BHS ()

    My child went through a similar situation last year. Check out the new resources on the BHS math website, https://sites.google.com/berkeley.net/mathematicsdepartment/student-and-parent-resources and have your child attend the free math tutoring BHS offers after school, which is led by math teachers every Monday through Thursday. Meanwhile, set up a time to talk with your child’s counselor as soon as possible.

    My child changed to regular Math 2, and it worked out great. In advanced math they move faster but in regular math they explore concepts more deeply, which is more suited to my child’s curiosity.

  • Lack of Admin response at BHS

    (14 replies)

    I need help and am so frustrated.  My daughter, who is a junior in high school, has consistently been an A and sometimes B student. She loves learning and used to love math.  This year her math teacher's teaching style is very difficult for her and she lost all confidence and was failed by 1.2 points.  At first I reached out to him to see if she could do any work to pass.  He was rigid on his stance.  She feels belittled by him and didn't want to even go to school.  I reached out to admin to ask for her to be switched to another math class. No response.  I called. Nothing.  I finally spoke to an admin who said they'd work on it and promised to call me in two days and meet with my daughter.  Nothing.  No call, no meeting.  I wrote to the principal.  Nothing.  I wrote to the Superintendent--nothing.  All I want at this point is to just drop the class.  No one seems to care or be responsive.  I feel so sad for my daughter and very disillusioned.  She is extremely stressed.  Any advice?

    I just saw your post after posting about my son’s experience with BHS math (maybe I shouldn’t have named the teacher?) The sense I’m getting is that MANY families are asking to be moved out of this teacher’s class or to drop the class all together and the administration is trying to stone wall all of us. They can’t let a bunch of students transfer to other math teachers (they say there is no room) but they refuse to address the problem. I’ve found many families who posted about serious issues with this teacher for years and complained to the school. Many kids who loved math and had always done well struggling and dreading going to school. It appears that nothing is being done. Sorry I don’t have positive advice to share. We’re in the same boat.

    Hi there,

    We are also having struggles with the math curriculum at BHS. It seems to have come to a head this year with Math3. My daughter also used to love math and this year has been awful. Her math teacher's style is hard to understand and many students are struggling. Among other things, her teacher was very late in returning homework to students. They took quizzes and exams without feedback from their work so they could target their study for tests. I'm really upset about this new math curriculum and I suspect my daughter's teacher is not too keen on it either, hence his crappy attitude and style. We have spoken with her counselor and with Ms. Phillips, the administrator for the math department, and they supposedly talked with the teacher, but nothing changed. She was not allowed to switch classes -- the other class offered during the same period had even more students than hers -- or drop the class. Their solution is the math tutoring after school, but there are too many students who need help and it's overcrowded. I emailed her teacher several times and he never bothered to respond to me. Finally, we gave up and we're paying for a tutor at Classroom Matters. The coordinator there has shared with us that they are seeing a lot more students from BHS math, especially her teacher. The coordinator emailed the teacher and asked for my daughter's homework, so she could study it over the break, and the stack was 2 + inches high. The good news is, my daughter got a B after busting her ass over winter break, thanks to help from her tutor. She feels a lot better about making it to the end of the year and is planning to take a summer course at BCC so she won't have to take math at BHS again. It just sucks that 1) my daughter has to spend time out of school doing this stuff that should be covered in class, and that 2) only families with financial resources can get this support. 

    My friend's child failed first semester Math3 and was allowed to drop the second semester, and will take Math3 in summer school. While she was waiting to speak to the counselor about this drop, there were 4 other students with the same request, same teacher (not my daughter's). My advice is to go in person (if you can) to the school and speak to Ms. Phillips, your student's counselor, and raise a stink. Ms. Phillips is a very busy administrator and sometimes she is out of her office, so you might call the front desk and check if she's around first. I find her very open to listening, but not sure why she's so inflexible about respecting the needs of the students with this math thing. Someone suggested it is probably difficult to find math teachers these days, which is probably true, but BHS math has had problems for ages. I'm really sorry your daughter is having such a terrible time and I feel your pain. I am working on writing a complaint but don't know if it will make a difference. Feel free to contact me if you need more support.

    My son also is having a terrible year in math 3. As far as we can tell, the teacher does not teach and tells the kids to figure it out for themselves. His grammar is so atrocious that no one can decode his exam questions. He rarely updates grades so the students don't know where they stand, and he doesn't respond to emails from students or parents. My kid aced math 2, but has struggled to do well this year even though he puts in hours daily. BHS needs to deal with this!

  • My daughter just finished her freshman year at BHS, did not place in advanced Math 1.  She's no math genius, but she is a very strong student, does not struggle at all in math.  In fact, Math 1 was a total joke, and she finished with 99%.  She took some kind of placement test for advanced math 2, and has not heard anything, so it looks like she'll be tracked for regular math at Berkeley High.  She is trying to calm my nerves, telling me that she'll still take calculus her senior year.  My concern is that this new math curriculum totally sucks, and will be horrible preparation for college, should she decide to keep taking some math classes.  Additionally, I keep hearing from other parents, that "colleges want to see you taking the most challenging curriculum at your school".

    Now, if she's not in the advanced math track because of this lame system at BHS, this is clearly putting her at a disadvantage wrt college admission. Also, there doesn't seem to be any other advanced classes in the sophomore year, except chemistry AP.  I've been told that's that hardest class at BHS, and no, she is not going for the sciences.  I really appreciate any feedback and perspective.  Thank you!

    frazzled parent

    My daughter took a summer class at BCC  and tested into a higher math class.  My suggestion is to stop focusing so much on these things.  I too worried about my daughter's curriculum and getting into college to the point it caused her a lot of anxiety.  When I finally backed off, she was a much happier girl.  Isn't it more important to have a happy child than a super stressed student?  Next summer have her take a class at BCC and relax and let her enjoy her time as a teenager.

    I agree, the math department at BHS totally sucks. My daughter (a rising BHS senior) has always excelled at math. But she needed a tutor for the duration of her junior year in order to improve her ACT scores.

    Overall, I've liked BHS, but I haven't liked their math curriculum. Try getting her a tutor, signing her up for classes at community college, or getting her engaged some other way.

    Two things: 1. CALM down! Your anxiety (your daughter is telling you not to worry) is not good for your daughter. You don't want her to spend 4 years of high school just thinking about college. That would be awful. She will get into college. If she does interesting things, and writes about them compellingly, colleges will value them. Passion 'is more important than which math class she takes. the UC's just care about GPA anyway but private schools actually read the essays. 2. If your daughter wants to take the advanced class- you 2 can go see the math VP (not sure who that is- used to be Erin but she's the principal now/ call the front desk during the first week of school and ask who that is) and her counselor and protest her placement. Show them her 99% score and insist (nicely) they change her class. I think any parent can insist their child takes a different class- but she can't drop out once she's been changed.

  • Calculus AB or BC?

    (4 replies)

    My 7th grader is taking pre-calculus this year and I'm wondering if he should take Calculus AB or BC next year. So far we have prioritized him being with his friends over going at the right pace for him, but this year he got bored in class so his teacher just started him with the pre-calculus curriculum which he is doing well with and nailing all the tests. (He already had the necessary background from doing extra work on his own.) So, for next year I'm wondering if we should put him in AB or BC. He is quite good at math so I'm not worried about him getting the concepts, I mostly worry about the amount of homework and the stress associated with the course. Thoughts on which would be better for him? Does BC have lots more homework or more stress? If he takes AB will he then take BC? Does BC cover a lot of the same material as AB? I am 100% sure he will easily get the concepts in either class the first time around since he's been doing different types of college level math for several years now.

    We are renting a house in a different district this year which has a 7-12 school (which is why he is able to do the pre-calculus) but next year he will go back to his old school and friends. He will need to go to the high school for math regardless of which math class he takes and I'm wondering if it is better to go at the beginning or end of the day? He typically rides his bike to school with his friends and has friends over after school. So is it better to go in the morning and miss the socialization on the way to school but not miss out on kids doing stuff together after school or is it better to start the day off on the right foot and go to school with his friends? The middle school and high school are about a mile apart so he can easily get himself between them by walking or biking.

    RE: Calculus AB or BC? ()

    The responses to your Calculus AB/BC questions may vary by school and teacher.  My daughter took (AP) Calculus BC at Berkeley High last year and now proctors for a Berkeley High Calculus AB class.  She said the two classes cover somewhat different material, but BC covers more and moves at a faster pace.  If your son is well-prepared and quick to pick things up, as it sounds like he is, he probably should just do BC.  Feel free to email if you have more specific questions.

    RE: Calculus AB or BC? ()

    If your son is doing well in pre-calculus without too much effort then I think it would be most natural for him to take Calc BC.  Calc AB is really just a watered down version of Calc BC.

    Can I ask what school(s) he's been going to that allowed him to accelerate in math?  I was not aware that ANY Berkeley schools allow kids to take accelerated math classes.  (Maybe you're in Piedmont?  or a very accommodating private school?)   I have friends who were thinking of temporarily relocating from Cambridge MA to Berkeley, but scrapped their plans when they realized that the local Berkeley school would not honor the fact that their kids were accelerated in math in Cambridge.  (Basically they were told that if a child is in 7th grade, she/he must take 7th grade math at that school.  Ridiculous.)

    RE: Calculus AB or BC? ()

    BC will cover the material from AB in the first semester (or part of the year) and "C" in the second, so BC is more accelerated than AB. I typically recommend that my students (I have worked as a math tutor for about 13 yrs.) who have time to take both classes (as in, aren't seniors their first year of Calc) do so because the second class moves very quickly and AB provides a more solid foundation. That said, if you're confident that he will have no trouble with any of it, there's nothing wrong with doing BC only. I would not expect BC to have any more homework than AB--just "harder" problems, and stress level will depend on how he does with understanding the concepts, which for most people are quite a step out of the box from things they've learned in Pre-Calc. The first 1/2 of BC can be a bit boring for students who have taken AB already, but after the first month or 6 weeks of class they do start to delve into some new topics/techniques that aren't covered in the AB class.  

    :Good luck!  I know it's a challenge guiding a student who falls outside of the "box" of classes that are typically offered for his age group, but there are so many good options, I don't think there is necessarily a right or wrong choice here.  :)

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

Does IB sophomore HAVE to take math after this year?

Feb 2016

My daughter is an IB sophomore and took Algebra in 8th, Geometry in 9th, and is in Algebra II this year. Math is NOT her thing. She has 2 tutors weekly, and is still struggling to understand, and getting C's. I know the California state requirements to graduate include two years of math, including Algebra 1. Because she is in IB (NOT going for the diploma), does she HAVE to take more math after this year? Can she take a basic math class at City College (like Algebra 1) that would count towards math in college? Does the UC system require math after Algebra II for admissions? Thanks for any information...the BHS website doesn't answer this question.
A's mom

Important: BHS requires 3 years of math to graduate, not two. You can see
the graduation requirements here (scroll down for BIHS):

http://bhs.berkeleyschools.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/BHS_Choices_Eng2016-17web.pdf

That was us last year. My son, a junior in BIHS, barely passed Algebra II
last year and in fact got a D for his first semester (pretty sure his
teacher gave him a mercy C second semester so he could pass). He's doing
really well in Math Studies right now, even though he didn't have a regular
teacher for the first quarter, and is currently deciding whether or not to
go for the diploma. My son's counselor told us that D grades are not
accepted at Cal State, so he will be taking Algebra II over this coming
summer (yay), and when (if?) he gets a better grade, it will wipe out his
bad one. Choices we are considering are online through BYU math, or Berkeley
City College.

I was confused about my son's math grade last year, because he kept getting
100% on his homework but bombing the test. Finally I figured out that the
teacher gave full points to anyone who turned in complete homework, and
never checked for CORRECT homework. His tutor tried to fill in the blanks,
but it was just too hard. By the time I figured it out, it was spring
quarter and too late to do much of anything.

THIS year, the teacher they had lined up to teach the class quit one day
before school started, so they had to scramble and find subs. It was
stressful, especially because of his experience the previous year in Algebra
II. I was not happy. Several current BHS teachers have taken on extra
sections to cover the classes left by that teacher who quit. I hope they
will be able to hire another teacher to cover that slot next year.

He is planning on NOT doing math at Berkeley High senior year; he'd rather
take it in college with (hopefully) a competent teacher and program. He's
considering going to Berkeley City College after graduation anyway and
transferring later on. 

There's a lot of things I love about Berkeley High, but the math department
is not one of them.

I highly recommend you speak with your child's counselor and/or Erin
Schweng, the Math Department chair. Also FYI:

Cal state requirements:
http://www.csumentor.edu/planning/high_school/subjects.asp

UC requirements:
http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/freshman/requirements/

Hope this helps!
thumbs down on math at BHS

 


Nov 2015

RE: CAS vs. AC for math lover with ADHD

My daughter with ADHD graduated from BHS last year and was in AC. She would say that the more challenging the course, the less chaotic the classroom. She learned very little in some regular AC courses, but her honors and AP courses prepared her well for college and AP tests, and the student body was engaged. I felt the math program was superb- I can compare it to the math program at the foremost private school in the area attended by a sibling which did not suit that child who also has ADHD. If he likes math, he should definitely go with AC or he will not be challenged. Math has been a drawback to the small school. Its not TOO rigorous in AC- she was a ''B'' student in middle school math, but she grew in confidence, getting an ''A'' in AP Calculus BC from the excellent Mr. Bloomsburg and getting a ''5'' on the AP exam. She also loved 3 of her 4 English teachers. The small schools are still part of the huge BHS community, and don't shelter much of the chaos. Anon


If your son is strong in math, you should be aware that the most recent available data shows that 94% of CAS students are not proficient in math. Though BHS is transitioning to offering the same math to all learning communities, it is hard to get much traction with new material in a classroom in which only about two kids out of 30 are at grade level. In AC classes, 30% of the kids are proficient in math. This is still very low but it means that about 10 kids in the class rather than 2 will be ready to learn without remediation.

These math proficiency rates are quite puzzling if you try to trace them back. The math proficiency rate at King, which is the largest school feeding into BHS, is 71%. How, then, do the Berkeley High small schools end up with math proficiency rates of 6% in CAS, 7% in AHA, and 2% in AMPS? Nothing like this happens in Berkeley when kids transition from elementary to middle school. In addition, many Berkeley kids who’ve attended excellent K-8 private schools such as Prospect Sierra go on to Berkeley High. This makes the plummet all the more baffling. Since success in high school math is the single most accurate predictor of success in college, it is somewhat surprising that Berkeley High has offered neither an explanation for nor a solution to this huge problem which affects — in one way or another — almost every student in the school. The 6% in CAS who are at grade level have almost no chance of moving ahead at a regular pace. And the 94% who need remediation are not offered it during class in any kind of meaningful or systematic way that allows them to get back on track. Many kids at BHS are years below grade level.

In your search for a calm and focused environment for your son, consider also the open campus policy at Berkeley High. Students can walk off campus after first or second period, buy drugs cheaply beside the school, get high, and return a few periods later, or not at all that day. When kids as young as 14 have the freedom to spend their lunch money on weed and sit in the sun or skate across the street from the school with friends instead of going to class, the classroom atmosphere is certainly affected when they wander back to class. This is true in all the learning communities — but there is less temptation to cut rigorous classes like precalculus or Honors Analysis because frequent cutting is soon reflected in very poor grades. The lower the standards in a class, the easier it is to cut frequently.

CAS has some good features. The kids form meaningful bonds. The teachers are hardworking and caring. There is a sense of group identity. Most kids in CAS like CAS and there is a lot to be said for kids having a positive feeling about high school. math teacher and parent


My son is a freshman in AC and also has ADHD. First word of advice: if you don't already have a 504 plan for your son, get it now while he is still in middle school. We had one already coming in to BHS, and when we had our 504 meeting with his BHS counselor and vice principal, they made it very clear that no accommodations would be granted that hadn't been granted at the middle school. We met a couple of parents who'd been trying to get a 504 for their kid at BHS for two years. Also get in touch with the parent group at BHS for 504 and IEP kids, called BOLD bhsboldcontact [at] gmail.com

Now about AC for ADHD kids. It is working out pretty well for our distracted kid. None of his classes are rowdy. All of his teachers have been very willing to follow the accommodations in his 504 plan, including extra time to complete homework and tests. However, and this is a BIG however, math happens in a group of 4 students whose desks face each other. They do classwork and tests as a group. The teacher's main role is to answer questions. Even though common core started this year, the math teachers are sticking to this long-held practice of learning in groups, which is deadly for certain kids, especially inattentive ADD students who have a hard time focusing. We asked if he could instead work quietly on his own, since group work for him is just one continuous distraction, and his 504 plan specifies that distractions be reduced as much as possible. But we were told that is not an option, this is how all the math teachers have agreed that they want to teach math. Instead, in a well-meaning but misguided effort to accommodate his ADD, the teacher put him a group with high-performing kids, so our son is not only still distracted but he feels very badly about holding back his group members as he struggles to finish tests and in-class assignments. As a result, our son is not doing well in math at BHS, and doesn't like math anymore. He had a great math experience at Willard, and performed well on the state exam in 8th grade. We are trying to keep him caught up by working on math at home. Bleh.

I don't know if CAS does group math. One reason we didn't choose CAS is because AC has a better reputation for math, which our son likes, or used to like, whereas CAS has a lot more writing, which is much more challenging for him. On the whole, we're happy with AC, but the math has been a disappointment. I'm not sure if they are still letting freshmen test out of algebra - if so, maybe the honors math classes are not like this, and your son could take those instead. Good luck!


I'm addressing my response to ALL current and future Berkeley High
parents and guardians, because the issue of how mathematics is taught at
BHS is an enormous problem.  Perhaps, if some of us work together, we
might find a way to incite some meaningful change in this department.

In last Friday's newsletter, one parent posed a question to which
another parent unwittingly responded.

THE QUESTION:

''In AC classes, 30% of the kids are proficient in math.... These ...
rates are quite puzzling if you try to trace them back. The math
proficiency rate at King, which is the largest school feeding into BHS,
is 71%. How, then, do the Berkeley High small schools end up with math
proficiency rates of 6% in CAS, 7% in AHA, and 2% in AMPS?''

THE ANSWER PROVIDED BY ANOTHER PARENT:

''[M]ath happens in a group of 4 students whose desks face each other. 
They do classwork and tests as a group…. Even though common core
started this year, the math teachers are sticking to this long-held
practice of learning in groups, which is deadly for certain kids,
especially inattentive ADD students who have a hard time focusing…. We
were told that is not an option [to let a student work quietly on his
own], this is how all the math teachers have agreed that they want to
teach math.'' 

This *mania* for group work in mathematics is nothing more than a
pedagogical fad, to which the mathematics dept. at BHS has subscribed
with predictably abysmal results.  

How to account for the difference in proficiency between the math scores
in AC (36%) with the small schools (less than 7%)? Easy: until last
year, all the small schools taught the discredited, intellectually
bankrupt program entitled “IMP Math”.  In his excoriating denunciation
of this program (commissioned by the BUSD), Cal math professor H. Wu
made a point applicable to the entire BHS math department: 

“[T]he requirement of active participation in group activities …
should be kept within bounds for students aspiring to be professionals
in the exact sciences…. [T]he understanding of anything worthwhile (in
science or mathematics) is on the whole an individual experience. It
must come from within. In addition to group activities, the students
should as well be encouraged to learn to ponder by themselves, to
develop their own individuality, and to learn new materials by reading
alone. IF A CAMEL IS THE HORSE DESIGNED BY A COMMITTEE, WHAT THEN IS THE
KIND OF MATHEMATICS LEARNED EXCLUSIVELY FROM COMPULSORY GROUP
ACTIVITIES? Is it really necessary to elevate mathematical
gregariousness to a virtue?”  

{Personal note: our child excelled in math at King, but BHS has been a
disaster. Although we managed to get her out of IMP Math after her
freshman year (thanks to advice on this forum!), her performance has
plummeted, and she no longer envisions a career in math.}

If you’re interested in banding together to approach the BUSD
administration, please ask the moderator for my email address.
~ let's turn the tide!

 


Alternatives to taking math at BHS

Sept 2001

We are all aware of some of the many reasons that kids are not successful in math at BHS. In my daughter's freshman year I think it was a sense of hopelessness that set in in Honors Geometry which led to her giving up. She made it through the first semester and then took Reg. Geometry in the second semester but was very dissatisfied with the teacher and eventually stopped attending class and failed.

Alternative 1: She repeated the second semester of geometry through BHS Independent Studies this summer. She enjoyed (well, that might be too strong a term) the self-paced nature of the class, and actually finished in less time than allotted with an A. Her father was able to 'tutor' her. Independent Studies recommended that all math students have a tutor. The weekly half-hour meeting with the teacher is not enough to help in understanding the concepts. (As a side benefit, she also got PE credit since she was required to take two classes. She spent a fair number of hours at the Y or on her bike.)

This year, as a sophomore, she used her teacher choice to 'avoid' a particular math teacher. Things were going well until after three weeks of school, due to low enrollment in some afternoon sections, the avoided teacher was put in charge of her class. She was not able to schedule math at a different time so she decided to withdraw.

Alternative 2: (though costly, ~$500 for a year's worth of math credit) www.laurelsprings.com Laurel Springs is an on-line school aimed mostly at homeschoolers. (see Distance Learning & Online Classes for the rest of this review.)

I think that math (and education in general) is a little like religion. "There are many paths to God." BHS could be a stronger place if the school were open to alternatives such as these.



Algebra over the summer

We went to Head Royce for the Algebra program. We didn't do it in-Lieu of, but it gave my son a huge amount of confidence when taking algebra in 8th Grade. It's only a 6 week program and the cost was pretty reasonable. Also, there is a bus from (64) from Berkeley Bart that takes them about 3 blocks away from the school.



Piedmont High has full-year algebra and geometry over the summer. It's very good. Last summer my son took geometry there because he was a year behind in math at BHS. PHS was hard work - intense, homework every night, he had to get up early in the morning for 6 weeks and catch 2 buses to get there. But he did very well! It was about $300. Last year the number to call was 594-2669



Algebra and Trig Credit from ATDP?



UC Berkeley's Academic Talent Development Program offers to teach a full year of high school algebra/trig in its summer program for gifted students. High school credit is supposed to be possible by petition if the student makes an A or B. We are considering this for Algebra II and Trig at a BHS student who is now in honors geometry. Does anyone have experience with the following:
--will BHS teachers recommend admission to this program?
--will BHS give credit?
--does the student learn enough to be prepared for other advanced math courses?
--how does what is learned compare to either regular or honors algebra?



Our daughter took Honors Geometry at BHS in her freshman year. She then attended the summer ATDP program in Algebra II/Trigonometry. In her sophomore year at BHS she took Math Analysis, then now as a junior she is in Calculus.

Yes BHS will recommend ATDP. Ms. Leventer, our Math Dept Chair, is very familiar with it. Your student will get credit from BHS but not as an Honors class. The ATDP program is very challenging. Our student worked very hard at it and was well prepared for the next advanced math class at BHS. Good luck!



Response to ATDP math question. I only have experience with the summer Algebra I ATDP class although I imagine it's representative. My entering 8th grader took Algebra 1 last summer; the class meets a full year requirement and would have moved her ahead to honors geometry as an 8th grader. For various reasons we decided not to go that route, but she took the Berkeley High test and passed and could have signed up for geometry. She needed a B or higher in ATDP and a certain score on the exam, which she got. Laurie Levanter administered the test in August and my understanding is that with the grade, score and ATDP teacher recommendation ATDP course work in Math is accepted by BHS.

The class was extremely fast moving (since they had to cover 1 year in 6 weeks) and challenging. My daughter could hardly do anything else during the 6 weeks, and in fact we had signed her up for a variety of afternoon activities (volleyball, kayaking,Y-camp) some of which she had to miss because the homework was so demanding. She was frequently up until 11 pm finishing homework (this is during summer vacation!) ATDP said there would be 6-10 hrs of homework per class and there was-at least. It's hard to describe what 6-10 hours of algebra homework every 2 days looks like-it was an unbelievable amount of work. I would think twice before encouraging my daughter to do another math class through ATDP-but if she wanted to, at least she knows what's she's getting into. Other kids were also very motivated, which helped. Your child has to really want to do this and be very disciplined when other friends are going off doing fun things; get behind in a class like this and it's all over! Kathy



A response to the ATDP question: If the student is a BHS student, the parent should discuss credit for ATDP work with the chair of the math department at BHS before signing up for the ATDP course. Linda



How do I appeal BHS Math Dept. Decision?

April 2000

Hello, I'm a new member and I need some advice and strategy. My daughter Rach, is a freshman and we are relatively new to the BUSD system, having moved from another state a couple of summers ago. having moved from another state a couple of summers ago. I am lucky. Rachael really loves to learn. She's a good, honest kid who tries hard, has some gifts in the humanities, and is generally an A- student. Math is not her strong suit, but she wants to "get it."

So here's the situation: She started Geometry this year with a teacher she liked and understood. While she floundered a bit at first, she pulled a strong B and was hoping to pull an A second semester. She actually wrote a letter to Ms. Saunders early in the year praising this teacher, Ms. Bracken, saying she was enjoying math at last!

Because many children failed the first semester of Geometry, the school created a repeat class and Ms. Bracken was enlisted to help these students. (Bravo! that the school responded immediately and didn't let the failures proceed.) But, my daughter was shifted to another teacher mid-term then who, unfortunately, confuses her terribly when he explains concepts and new material.

I called him during the first few weeks and asked for a recommendation for a Geometry text that we could refer to at home. He said that he didn't want the students to refer to other texts. They were to call fellow students and struggle with it together or come to him during their lunch periods (We all know how much time the kids have during that period!) Rach says he's very short-tempered when children request repeat explanations...so she doesn't. She wishes to stay on his good side, as any student does.

Instead, she started going to the Tutor Floor most Tues and Thurs after class and called an old algebra tutor we used in middle school, for occasional support. Still, Rach wanted to come out of class without her head spinning in confusion.

The last day we were permitted to ask for class changes, I called her counselor and presented the case that here was a pro-active student asking for help BEFORE she failed (and she's now very concerned that will happen!). Couldn't we come together and find a solution for her? While Jennifer, her counselor, was very supportive, she has no power to change anything without the Math Chair's approval. So I called Laura La Venture (spelling uncertain). She left me a message saying classes were filled and Rach would "Have to make do."

He is not a popular teacher and I do think one of the issues is that Laura is tired of hearing students wanting out because he's not popular. That is not the case for Rachael. She has found her balance with him personally. She says he likes her and enjoys her sense of humor in class.

I came back with a letter asking why a good student asking for help must "make do" while failing students get a new teacher and a whole repeat class? Rach is willing to take on a 7th period in order to find a seat in another math class where she can understand. Can we not brainstorm something and help her succeed? Still the Chair said flat no. The teacher's contracts forbid them having over a certain number of students.(Aren't the teachers working without a contract at present?) She cannot switch a child into a full class. My response was that if the classes are already overfull, it shouldn't make a difference if one more is there. But it DOES make a difference to the child's success if she understands the material at the hands of the new teacher.

Rach is considered a real positive in all her classes and another teacher might be willing if they knew how hard she tries and how well she is thought of my her other teachers. Couldn't we ask? No, we couldn't. Her present math class has less than 30. And the numbers seemed to be where the issue lies. Part of her education is to learn to deal with what life throws at her. (She is- she's trying to change what isn't working.)

She said she understood my concern. But she insisted the teacher was competent and prepares his students well for the more advanced classes, which she teachers. I said it was a learning style problem,so that didn't apply in my daughter's case and she was struggling and deserved a solution. Our personal tutor wrote the school a letter saying she saw this affecting Rach's self-confidence and hoped they would allow her to switch teachers.

Without the Math Chair's willingness to discuss it further, I'm stopped. Rach is so frustrated by the math- she's gotten a D- on her last test, that I now see it affecting her concentration on her other subjects. She's making an appointment with Ms Tanner, the VP today and asked me to attend as well. She is attempting to resolve a situation that is non-productive and now affecting her other classwork.

I want to know from any other parent who may have gone through this with BHS, what the most successful course of action might be to help her. WHAT POWERS DO I HAVE? Could I, for example, withdraw her from the class physically (it's her last period) and have her work with a tutor, taking the tests only? Could a math teacher willing to take her in, override the Chair's no? What rights do students really have to ask to learn?

My whole perspective has been to not make this a fight, but a request to come together to help a good student learn- it is the public school's mandate, is it not? Any help you can give me as I go into the next step of this is helpful. Thank you. Loni



I have not had good luck with math at BHS. Everyone is probably tired of hearing me talk about it, but let me take one more turn. I figure I've earned it after some of the supportive things I've said lately.

My interaction with math teachers and the math department has been very, very limited. I rarely visit the school, rarely call teachers, and tend to wait till things reach the crisis stage before I do. So I am neither a good example of an involved BHS parent nor a good source of advice. But I would like to share my experience - maybe it's helpful to some other parent.

Both my kids started with CPM math as freshmen. That means they were not on the "fast track". They both took to it about as well as cats take to water. They are nice guys, bright kids, but academic ambition is not in their repetoire. Their problem with CPM-style math is that they are not self-motivated enough to read and "discover" on their own, which seems to be the cornerstone of this teaching method. Furthermore, the de-emphasis on teacherly teaching, and the emphasis on learning from classmates, has meant (for my kids at least) that 1) their performance in class depends on how willing they are to get help from classmates (they aren't), and 2) they have developed an unhealthy cynicism about their teachers. My older son is convinced that the teacher is "lazy" and that she doesn't really know how to do the math, and that is why she isn't teaching it.

In fact their troubles have nothing to do with their teachers. Both my sons' math teachers this year have been extremely responsive and have both gone above and beyond what I'd expect from a high school teacher. Both, I think, are new to teaching, and I hope that they will stick with it despite the difficulties of teaching the unwilling children of ever-complaining parents in a huge public school like BHS.

Ms. Bracken is my junior son's algebra teacher. She phoned me one evening at 7:30 in response to a call I had made to the head of the math dept., Ms. Leventer. (I'd only called Ms. Leventer because I had to - my son needed her permission to progress to the second semester algebra since he had a D in the first semester.) Ms. Bracken listened patiently and offered encouragement. She reassured me that my son would be fine in second semester - his main problem was not turning in homework. We talked for over an hour, and she had to call me back several times because the school phone kept losing volume. She was still at the school at 8:30pm, not unusual, she said.

What is happening in his junior year is a re-run of what happened in his freshman year. He didn't pass second semester freshman algebra mainly because he never turned in homework. He disliked the group learning environment, and he refused to cooperate. He had to take the entire year again as a sophomore. Incredibly, I didn't realize this until a few weeks into his sophomore year. When I met with the then-chair of the math dept., there was sympathy, and understanding, but no alternatives. Not possible to make up the half year he'd flunked over the summer, not possible to take it at another school, not possible to drop the class and pick up geometry with a tutor, nothing else to do but sit through the entire year all over again. However it was possible he could take geometry over the summer, to catch up. He did, at Piedmont High summer school. He got a B+.

My freshman son's math teacher Ms. Treuting is amazing. She called me early in the fall with a status report and continued calling regularly after that. She allowed the kids to re-take any test, she sent home a booklet of extra credit problems over the winter holidays, and she was always available for questions. She did everything in her power to boost the non-performers like my kid out of the D-F range. At home, I was checking homework every night, and keeping track of grades and tests. I saw history repeating itself, despite my efforts and the herculean efforts of Ms. Treuting. I could not bear the thought of my son having to go through the same experience as his older brother. He had loved math at Willard with Ms. Berman in the 8th grade, and here we were slipping into the I Hate Math routine that CPM seems to engender in my kids. Sorry to say that there was a similar story in several other of his classes, and with the new retention policy, he seemed doomed to repeat his freshman year. The only choice seemed to be private school, and I am so thankful that we had this option. He changed to a new school in January. His first progress report there was great. A's and B's with only one C, in "Human Sexuality". He has an A in math! When I asked him what the difference was, he said "it's easy - I already had it all in 8th grade." (... and it's very structured and the class is very small and the teachers have a much lighter load but ... MY KID MADE AN A IN MATH!) I think this speaks well of the math instruction in public schools but it also proves to me that my kids' grades may be more a reflexion of the teaching style, than of their actual ability to absorb information. My kids can make good grades in math, even in a very demanding intensely condensed class over the summer. But how well they do depends almost entirely on the way math is taught.

When I had to call Ms. Leventer recently, to seek permission for my junior to progress to Semester Two of advanced algebra, I attempted to explain my CPM problem. I wanted to explain why I thought my son could handle the second semester, even though he had a D in first semester. I described the problems my kids have had over the last three years with the CPM method of self-discovery, and the success they have had with other methods. Somehow the conversation turned into a debate, heated at times, on the merits of CPM. Ms. Leventer told me that CPM has been shown to be the most effective method for the most kids. Who makes the decision about which math texts are used, and how math is taught at BHS? I asked. The BHS math department does. Isn't there any way for a parent to make an appeal? Yes - talk to the head of the math department. Aren't there any teachers who'd be willing to teach math in a more traditional way, for the kids who don't respond to CPM? No. The math department agrees that CPM is very effective, and BHS has the high test scores to prove it. All the teachers agree? Yes. They are all in agreement.

Too bad for my kids I guess - it works for everybody else. So my conclusion is that if you have a kid who doesn't respond to the officially sanctioned math curriculum at BHS, you are on your own, and it is going to be a rough four years for you and your kid.

Ginger



Dear parents, teachers and administrators,
Thank you!! The response was warm, supportive and,started at 7am Monday morning, filled with energy! Almost everyone suggested I take it to Ms. Saunders directly, which I will do after I do *my* homework and find out a bit more about other Math teacher possibilities.

I believe a successful teacher-child relationship is really unique to each pair, which is why I chose not to mention the teacher's name. What works badly for one can be just the right type of situation for another. (I didn't realized I'd set up a guessing game, but I had, and everyone who guessed, guessed wrong!) I've heard good and bad about several teachers, some more consistently judged than others, but heard a pretty mixed response. Many parents understood that there are good, if difficult demanding teachers,and some wisely also spoke to the issue that the teaching style can make the learning impossible for a child, defeating the child's purpose for being there. It was important to take in all these opinions.


Tutoring help with Math at BHS

1999

The Math department has a list of (unscreened) tutors - this list is most likely posted in your child's class. However, I find the best tutors to be students who have taken the class. We have MANY BHS grads at UCB who could be employed in this way. We also have about 10 students who have already completed Calculus and are still attending BHS (although this does not help with the Physics). Your child may know some of these students or grads. If not, Ms. Bled, the college counselor, or I can recommend them. Good luck! -Laura Leventer, former Calculus teacher and Math chair (now VP)



What math level is your son? There are a LOT of students who work together in H203 after school. Ms. Leventer is there as well. I'm not sure if all of the students are Math Analysis or a variety of levels.

There is Algebra II tutoring a couple days a week after school in the southeast corner room on the thrid floor of the "H" Building. In the same room there is Algebra I tutoring on alternate days.

MANY of the math teachers have tutoring at lunch in their classrooms.
Flora Russ, Computer Science (1/00)



And for math...the best resource he found was to track down Mr. LeBlanc in his class room! He didn't have LeBlanc as a teacher, but got the word from someone that he could explain things, was kind, and was often in his classroom at lunch.

Linda (7/99)



Re: Math Tutor for AP Geometry. The Math department at BHS has a list of tutors. You or your student should talk with the teacher and see if they have any recommendations or know anything about them. There is one tutor on the list who is an older man which my daughter's math teacher thought was quite good and expensive. I think his name is Harry or Henry. We did not have him so I can't speak from personal experience. Good luck (4/99)