Math Analysis at BHS

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Nov - Dec 2001

I am the parent of a student at BHS who has hit the wall mathematically in Math Analysis. Although she is generally an A student and is working with one of the best math tutors in the area, she has been unable to raise her grade on tests above a low C or D. I hate to be obsessing on grades but as we all know junior year is what most colleges look at when they are admitting. Besides, she is completely demoralized to be working so hard and not "getting it." Are other parents seeing their kids struggling with this course? What are you doing to help them? She is considering dropping it to take it in summer school. Has anyone had a student do that? She complains that the teacher is not teaching them the material and puts stuff on the test that they have not gone over in class. Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated.

In response to the question about math analysis, my son had a great deal of difficulty with it, as well. He worked very hard, and still wound up with a C in Junior year. He was able to get through it by spending many lunch hours in the teacher's classroom, where she answered questions and other students went to study and peer-tutor each other. I don't remember if there were other tutors there, or not. (The downside to having Laura Leventer become a VP was losing her has a math teacher - she was great!)

For perspective, he went on to do quite well in Calculus AB the next year, and having that C on his report card during Junior year didn't seem to make a big difference - at any rate, he was accepted at all the colleges he applied to, which included 4 UC campuses.

I am not sure why Calculus was easier for our son than Math Analysis, but maybe the contrast is similar to the difference between Algebra and Geometry - I know some kids find one easier than the other.

The note about the junior who is having trouble with math analysis is really on target with my daughter's experience. My daughter is still doing okay, but having a great deal of trouble. She also complains that there are things on the test that have not been taught--that the teaching is unintelligible, and now that they are beginning to go over new material she has requested a tutor, since she doesn't follow anything he says. Your daughter is not alone. We are looking for a math tutor. Any new suggestions? The names are a bit old on the POT web site.

My daughter also struggled with Math Analysis. She took the class several times and, when asked on a college application, what was her greatest accomplishment so far, she wrote that her greatest achievement would be when she finally passed math analysis. Finally, after three tries she did. And we celebrated that C. She is now a UC student, terrified of anything with the word "math" but, enjoying the rest of her education. My tip to you, don't stress, encourage her not to stress, and find a good math tutor. I had an adult friend who was engineer and he helped her.

I want to reply to the parent of the student who is struggling in math analysis. My daughter is also struggling in this course. Although she is making A's and B's, she also is dismayed by the lack of return on the work that she puts in. She also complains that teacher puts material on the tests that is not covered in class. He then says that he is trying to teach them test-taking skills. I have no advice. My daughter is trying to get out of the class and will certainly leave at the semester.

I am responding to the mother whose child is having trouble with math analysis. My son is also taking this course. Until last week, when he began to study trigonometry, the entire course had consisted of a review of Algebra II. Thus, I would not expect the teacher to go over everything in class that was taught before in Algebra II. From what you write, it seems your daughter may have forgotten much of her algebra. This can happen to good students but is fixable.

Since I am a math professor at UCB with some experience teaching freshmen calculus, let me add that algebra is an important stepping stone to calculus. When we lecture to a large class, we assume everyone knows algebra and may move quickly through some necessary algebraic steps. Students who have a solid background follow along and are able to focus on the new material. Their homework is not daunting. Students with a weak background in algebra often get lost in lectures. They have to work very hard on their homework and might pull a C with tutors and help from the Student Learning Center. Many will have to drop out of the course. They will then spend a year in precalculus which will delay their entire program. Calculus has become a gateway for more and more college programs besides science and engineering. For example, you need a good grade in calculus to be admitted to the Haas School of Business. Jenny

I have no answer to your dilemma just commiseration. My son, who has always been a math whiz is getting a C in this class and says that it is difficult and he often doesn't understand it. (I, who was great in math until trigonometry, have no idea what math analysis even is). I'll be curious to see what others' responses are.

I could have written exactly what you did -- that my previously A math student is working hard, getting tutoring, and doing poorly on tests. She says that the teacher doesn't explain the material and puts things on tests that he hasn't taught. Her friends are also having a difficult time. The teacher has told me that math analysis requires a different type of thinking, and that the kids eventually get it -- this did not inspire much faith in me. Tests count for 80% of the grade, which apparently is a department policy. However, this ends up being discouraging for students who don't perform well on tests. In all other math courses at BHS, both before and after Math Analysis, there are different levels that students can take. I don't understand why there's only one M.A. level. Seems to me that this is a systemic problem, unless it's covertly meant as a screening device to keep kids out of Calculus. As you can see, I am similarly discouraged, and have found no good answer. I am hoping that my kid's other good grades will cover when it comes time for college admissions. Conversations with the teacher have not been productive. I'm sorry I don't have helpful suggestions, but just wanted to let you know that others share your concerns.

My daughter took Math Analysis through Brigham Young University on-line when she was a senior and in the same situation as your daughter. You can look it up on the web or get the information (as we did) from The Tutoring Center on Dwight in Berk.

My daughter sounds very like your child- a junior in Math Analysis, generally an A student, working hard and only squeezing out C's and D's. I did like her teacher, although his answer to "what can she do to pull better grades?" gave me no comfort. His answer was that Math Analysis is the course that really weeds out the good student who is not particularly a math person from the good student who is a math person. In your case, as it was in ours, your daughter is only a junior. According to the teacher, besides natural talent there is a maturation that is necessary for this course material that usually does not kick in until senior year, and we are talking brain maturation here, not something that can be affected by outside influences. So, we were stuck with a kid, good student although math was not her strong point, who was a junior and a young one to boot. She would often say that she would just be getting the hang of a concept when it was time to move on and the test on that section was over. I blamed her predicament on our not understanding all the ramifications of starting Algebra I in eighth grade.

I once had a discussion with the then head of the math dept at BHS about my daughter's plight and he indicated that he was really trying to get the district to slow down on pushing algebra on the middle-schoolers. And he warned us that we were in for even more trying times with senior math- what was there to take besides courses that had all the AP math kids? Accorking to him, more and more colleges want to see math in all four years (not really caring as much what levels, so 2 years algebra, 1 year geometry and math analysis would do just fine, with math analysis taken when that all important brain maturation had a chance to kick in). All in all, due to the system, our daughter was in over her head and had a miserable time of it, tutors notwithstanding.

If you want to know what happened to her, she started Statistics in her senior year, we went back to the tutor that she had been most pleased with for Math Analysis, he took one look at the stuff and said it was over his ability, we called colleges that she was interested in, got the news that no math was preferable to math with D's or heaven forbid F's, and she dropped math at BHS like a hot potato. It would have ruined her year and all her other courses. She is now happily at a 4-yr liberal schools in the East. Some of our friends thought it outrageous that we allowed her to drop math because it was "too hard", but they hadn't walked junior year in our shoes. Really, we gave her the gift of a sane senior year and us too. So many people just get carried away killing the kids for some esoteric college goal.

You want the college they go to want someone like they really are, not as some driven trained automaton. Best of luck to you. Just thought you might like to know that there is life after BHS and math analysis, and quality college life at that.

In regard to the "Math Analysis woes:" our child has managed to do OK in terms of grades, but has some similar problems with the class. She is also quite upset that material is appearing on exams that has not been presented in the class. She says she discussed this with the teacher, who did not deny that the material had not been presented in class, but was told that "some students were able to answer the problem." She has just requested a math tutor. Much of the material earlier in the year was review for her, but she reports having great difficulty understanding new material the way it is being presented in class.

Some pointed thoughts on Math Analysis at BHS

I've tried to bite my tongue regarding the math analysis issue, but I have to speak out. I have an excellent mathematics background. My undergraduate training was in engineering. I understand mathematics and I understand education.

Speaking as a professional educator, I am outraged at the downright arrogant manner in which math analysis is being handled at BHS.

In posting after posting in this newsletter I read how numbers of students are struggling with the course content. A teacher reportedly said "... that Math Analysis is the course that really weeds out the good student who is not particularly a math person from the good student who is a math person," (in a posting in the 12/1 copy of this newsletter).

My polite response to that teacher - and to all teachers at BHS who hold the equivalent opinion in their respective departments - is "baloney!" Classes in high schools should be taught so our students can acquire the breadth of knowledge necessary to prepare them for work or college. Classes in high school should not be designed to "weed out" students. Leave that to college organic chemistry to weed out inappropriate medical school applicants.

I guess I'm an old-timer, but I believe that if a substantial number of motivated students in a class are not grasping the material, that reflects most strongly on the teacher and on the department, not on our kids. A definition of "teacher" is "one that teaches; especially: one whose occupation is to instruct." The responsibility is on the teachers to find ways to communicate their knowledge so it can be understood by the students. That's their job. Passing out a worksheet containing degree to radian conversions the day before a quiz does not qualify as good, nor even adequate, teaching.

I know many students who have gone through BHS. Many learned math despite their teachers. Some, I admit, learned math because of exposure to one of a handful of good math teachers. I know of at least one student who has successfully avoided all collegiate math courses, due directly to a class with one BHS math teacher who single-handedly turned him off to the subject.

When such a large number of students are having an awful experience with one particular course, then something is dreadfully wrong. It's time for the powers-that-be to focus clearly on this mockery of high school education. If math analysis is in the curriculum, then it is mandatory that the teachers stop hiding behind the smokescreen of "this is a weed out course" and start doing what they have been hired to do - teach these concepts to our kids so they can learn them.

Accountability demands that if the majority of your students don't learn what you're teaching them - and if all motivated students don't learn at least enough to really deserve a C grade - then you are failing in your mission as an educator, and something has to change.

I have just read the postings on Math Analysis at BHS. Many people observed that material appears on the tests that has not been presented in class; one poster quoted the teacher admitting doing this. The teacher may have his rationale for this practice, but it is unethical to test students on material that has not been taught. If the BHS administration is allowing this practice, then we need to complain to the Superintendent and School Board.

The purpose of a class is to convey a body of information to the best of the teacher's ability to teach and the students' ability to learn. Everyone who wrote said their child was struggling, going from A's in math to C's and D's. There were no postings to the effect, "Math Analysis was a piece of cake for my kid", suggesting a problem with curriculum and/or instruction. One way to check this is to compare Math Analysis courses at other high schools--do those students have more success? Why?

There was a comment that Math Analysis weeds out the average bright math student from the students who really "get" advanced math. I am appalled that a high school course would be structured to inhibit the success of any student. A teacher's fundamental calling is to believe in her or his students and do their best to help every student succeed. Intentional failure to do so is a perversion of the art of teaching and has no place in the public schools. Louise

No course in the math department engenders more comment than math analysis. This year, as evidenced by the letters from parents to the E-tree, a number of students find the class very difficult. Other students, who usually talk to me at school, find the course insufficiently challenging. Shortly after I became head of the math department last fall, the problem was brought to me by a Jacket reporter. I raised the issue in a department meeting and asked my colleagues to think about it. After that, we have unfortunately been forced to spend almost all of our meeting time talking about WASC. We intend to discuss the issue of math analysis in depth as soon as can.

This course was structured many years ago when few students who took the class were not seriously interested in math. At that time, we created an Honors Algebra II because that would give the largest number of students the chance to get the extra grade-point and kept one level of math analysis. Due to changes in the population of students taking math analysis such as grade level, future goals, university requirements, etc., we intend to examine how we handle the math after Algebra II. If you have thoughts on this subject, please e-mail me or have your child talk with me. My email address is Judith_Bodenhausen [at]; my office is in H209.

Regarding math analysis at BHS, it is not designed as a filter to keep students out of calculus. I have taught BC calculus for eighteen of the last twenty years. I don9t think a year has passed in which I have not had students who earned a higher grade from me than they received in math analysis.

I have already met and will meet again with the math analysis teachers. We are discussing the issues of expecting students to learn material directly from the book with no class discussion and a relatively uniform difficulty level for tests from the various teachers. I anticipate that by the middle of next week, we will have resolved these issues. Lastly, I would like to comment on tutoring. All math teachers make themselves available to tutor their own students. In addition, we have two after school tutorials that run 7th period until 4:30 Monday through Thursday. The geometry tutorial in H306 and the algebra/math analysis tutorial in H308 are staffed by Cal students and Cal outreach staff. In addition, several BHS honors math students are usually available to assist. However, if you prefer to have a private tutor for your child, I suggest monitoring what they do. I have watched numerous tutors do the "fishing" for students rather than "teaching those students how to fish." These tutors merely told the students how to do their assignments rather than help the students understand how to do the assignments themselves. We maintain a list in the department of individuals who have contacted us and told us that they tutor. Copies of the list are available in H209.

Judith Bodenhausen
Math Department Specialists

Regarding math analysis at BHS: I'm glad to hear the department chair that the class will be re-evaluated before the next school year. I think the comment about this class serving to "weed out the students who are not serious about math" is one of the most ridiculous and un-foresightful comments I've heard in a long time. What other class are 11th and 12th grade students to take?! Many students now take Algebra I in 9th grade and they still need 3 if not 4 years of HS math to qualify for UC and other colleges. I can understand that Calculus BC is for very serious math students only. Liz

Are there two public high schools in Berkeley? All the parent comments on this course refer to it as impossibly difficult; many feel it is used unfairly to "weed out" those with less math aptitude. Our experience was the opposite. When our daughter took this course, she and her friends complained that they were just treading water; other than a little trig, they didn't learn anything new. (The teacher was also a problem, however.) Our daughter believed the trigonometry could have been added on to Algebra II and it would have been better to go directly to calculus without wasting time on all the review material in Math Analysis. Her theory is that the course is boring for the Algebra Honors students but sometimes too much of a challenge for the non-Honors students. These students are finally faced with some of the requirements they will need for calculus. Maybe the non-Honors courses need to be strengthened. Perhaps the problem is not so much with Math Analysis teachers, as with a standard math curriculum that no longer requires learning many of the essential tools of mathematics.

Our son is now in math analysis and says it's an easy course and that almost everything taught so far has been review. It might be that the problem stems from the lack of an honours section. First and second year math do have honours but not the third year. Perhaps the mixed class ends up being too easy for some and too hard for others.

I have to weigh in with positive comments about Math Analysis. My son, a junior, is taking it now and it has turned out to be one of his favorite classes. He was apprehensive about the class since he knew it was likely going to be one of the most challenging of the math classes he's taken, but the teacher has been wonderfully thorough and patient while keeping the class at the highest level. He feels he's learning the material in depth, understanding it, and is getting prepared for the next challenge of Calculus or Stat. Wendy