Math Placement Test at Berkeley High School

Parent Q&A

  • BHS Math Placement Test - How to prepare?

    (3 replies)

    I'm trying to get a sense of how difficult the math placement test is for Berkeley High and whether my child needs to prepare for it ahead of time. My 8th grader is currently at a BUSD middle school and gets consistently high grades in math, and near perfect scores on all state standardized tests and district assessments he has taken. But he is not doing any math outside of the school common core curriculum. Does the math placement test expect that students are already working on math above their current grade level, either outside of school or at a private school? Can a student pass who is just doing math through the public school system? And is there anyway my child can or should prepare for the test? What percentage of kids who take the test pass it? I am having a hard time getting firm answers to these questions from my child's current math teacher. Thank you.

    If your child is doing well in Math at BUSD and gets near perfect test scores, your child will be placed in Advanced Math at BHS. There’s nothing more to prepare, so you (and your child) shouldn’t stress out over it. It’s irrelevant how many people score at a level that places them in Advanced Math. They will create enough class cohorts for the need.

    Hi, Anonymous. Historically, some kids study for these tests, and some don't. My about-to-graduate, mathematically-inclined kid, did not. It never occurred to us that she should - because the purpose of the test is to make sure your kid gets into the appropriate math class. I can also tell you anecdotally about all the kids I know who tested into advanced math at BHS under the current course progression, only to drop down a level, because the new math progression is still a work in progress at BHS, and while some teachers are fantastic, and some good or pretty good, some of them have made students' lives a misery. I've also spoken to parents whose kids were on the cusp on the placement test, and who fought to get their kid bumped up a level - only to have their child be miserable.This is in stark contrast with the numbers of parents who tell me about their amazing middle school math teachers (our's were.) So, my personal advice: let your kid take the test and see what happens. Don't sweat this part of the journey. And be prepared with resources such as online classes, afterschool help with teachers, and the like, in case your kid has any struggles.

    I have been working in secondary math education in the East Bay for many years and am a local Board Member of the Ca Math Council.  The BHS math placement test is to make sure your child ends up in the most appropriately paced 9th grade math class once at BHS.  There is no real "passing" on the placement test, it is an assessment to see if your child might belong in a more rigorous, faster-paced math class, covering the same material more in-depth.  Your child should do his best work and any extra credit work in his 8th grade math class which covers exactly what BHS is looking to evaluate for 9th grade math placement.  For more detailed information, the curriculum used in BHS math is available at this link:  (Mathematics Vision Project-MVP)

    The newer CCSS approach to Math teaching means that most students are studying similar material at each grade level.  However, students who want to excel would do extra credit and try the harder, more in-depth, applied lessons at the end of each module in the EngageNY curriculum.  Also, if your son would like more work, look at extra grade-level material on Khan Academy.  Ultimately, excelling in math means delving deeper into math topics at all levels. What is covered in 8th grade CCSS Math is the basic foundational material for Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Statistics and the first concepts in Calculus and Applied Math in all areas. All Math 1 courses at BHS extend on these topics in more depth.

    There is no "passing" or "failing" the placement test.  It is an assessment for the best paced HS Math Class for your son.  In addition, after 9th grade, students are re-assessed once again for 10th grade.

    I hope this is helpful


    Belinda Lesser, Parent and Math Educator

Archived Q&A and Reviews




Just moved here, daughter not allowed to take honors geometry

Nov 2012

Does anyone have experience with how to prepare a freshman for the math placement test in the spring to get into honors Algebra 2 next year? Is there anyone who will help direct us to what's on the test? We aren't getting much help at all at the school. We moved into the district in the late summer, and they put her in regular Geometry and wouldn't let her take honors because she hadn't had a placement test. It is very easy for her. Many students in the class are upper class students who have failed it once, so she says the expectations are low and the workload also low. It seems a shame to do that to incoming freshman students. They say she needs Algebra and Geometry for the placement , but her class isn't doing Algebra and isn't doing the proofs that are being done in the honors class. Are there tutors who specialize in preparing students for this test? Does anyone have any ideas? THANK YOU! Susan

My son did not pass the placement test last year for Geometry Honors. We kept trying to contact the school about it over the summer but never heard back. Finally at registration, we got him in anyway by signing a waiver and he is getting an A. You can probably do this as well for Algebra 2 if the placement test does not go well. Janis


Freshman didn't make it into Honors geometry, is discouraged by the class

Sept 2012


I read the thread on BHS Math this summer with interest, but with no experience as of that time since my child had not yet started at BHS. Now we are several weeks into the school year and my 9th grader is already discouraged by the Geometry class/teacher. As a parent listening to this, it saddens me. My child did not make it into the Honors Geometry class based on the placement test, and I have two questions moving forward:

1) How do you judge when to intervene with the teacher and when to suggest to your student that he/she advocate for themselves? (I am not sure how receptive this teacher is to student self-advocacy, or any feedback from parents for that matter, based on some comments already heard).

2) I am wondering if my child will learn enough in this class to actually have the chance to place into honors math next year -- is there a good track record of students taking regular Geometry making it into honors in the second year? (I know there was concern already expressed this summer re. honors math too, but is that really the way to get a better math experience?).

Should we be thinking of hiring a tutor, not so much to help understand concepts being taught, but to help engage student in math and maybe make it more interesting and be better prepared for honors placement test?

If so, any recommendations for tutors that fit this description? Thank you. Anon

I could have written your email some five years ago, and will now give you a little retrospective on our path. Five years ago. our daughter would have been a freshman in the IB program. Math is not her long suite but she was ok at it and certainly managing. In 9th grade, she had a geometry teacher for whom English was not a first language. This made understanding and comprehension a very difficult task. My daughter struggled mightily, did not get support, did not get the help she needed from the teacher. I made repeated visits and could not understand her myself. The teacher went on maternity leave, English-speaking teacher arrives, comprehension improves, grades shoot up. Teacher returns from leave, things fall apart, daughter needs to repeat geometry in sophomore year. Learns to hate math. This sets up a pattern that persists to this day. It impacted the colleges to which she got in/did not get in. It became the beginning of months of tutoring outside of class. But most importantly, the whole math experience, beginning in ninth grade, compromised my daughter's precious sense of self-esteem and her sense of place in her learning community. BHS completely failed her in this one area.

Having seen all of this first-hand, I would say, as a BHS parent, just jump in. Get outside help right away if you think it's needed. Unless BHS has changed A LOT in five years, don't expect much help. Maybe there are great math teachers there and we just drew the short straw, but my daughter really suffered, big time, long term, from this one terrible experience and this one lousy teacher who, as I understand it, flunked many many kids in her class, who my daughter ended up repeating geometry with in tenth grade (my kid ended up leaving BHS after tenth grade, so I do not have a happy BHS ending to this story for you).

Be an advocate, right away. It's too much to expect of a ninth grader to navigate the big rough waters at BHS. Find a tutor, get the help your child needs, wait outside the counselor's office until you get the attention you and your child require.

Hope it all works well. Not to be too gloomy here but we traveled a rough road in this very area, and my daughter is sadly still dealing with the ripples all these years later (BTW she did get into a very solid college back East, is doing just fine in her chosen field, and is avoiding math at all cost). Been there, so glad it's over

I suggest you email the BHS Vice Principal who is responsible for math and tell them your specific concerns about this teacher. (You can call the front desk and they will give you her name--I forget right now.) You should continue to email or call that VP throughout the year each time your child gives you another legitimate complaint. Don't expect that this will change things for this year, but with enough pushing maybe FINALLY they will get the point that there are two or three teachers in the department that need to change or go. Get other parents you know to do the same thing. I did not do this when my child was a freshman in honors geometry and I regret it every time I hear another complaint about that particular teacher.

You should be aware that the honors math classes are very difficult, like night and day from the regular classes. My child, who decided to move into regular math this year after 2 years in honors said that in regular math they teach you what to do and in honors they teach you why you're doing it. That seems much better, of course, but your kid needs to be up for the challenge and the homework. parent of BHS junior

Our daughter went from a C to a B in Algebra 2 and improved her SAT math score almost 100 points with tutor James Eno jetutorials [at] in downtown Berkeley. Don't know if he also does Geometry, but it's worth asking. All the best.

Math teachers at BHS vary greatly. I suggest you schedule a meeting ASAP with your child's teacher to discuss your child's difficulties and what you can do to assist the teacher and your child. Once you talk to the teacher, you will likely know what you need to do as far as advocacy. Frankly, not much advocacy you can do--you certanly can't advocate for the teacher to care about teaching, lecture clearly, grade homework, etc. Given the likelihood that your child is about to suffer through a rough year in Math, if you can afford one I strongly suggest hiring a weekly tutor so your child keeps up and understands the topics for the future. Also, don't yet think about honors testing next year. The time for those thoughts is next year and when the time comes you will likely know what to do. There are MANY great aspects to the BHS experience--but there are a few math teachers that are far far from great. Good luck! Paul


How to appeal non-honors placement for strong math student

July 2012

Our son will be entering BHS as a 9th grader next year, and like the son of a recent parent who posted here about Honors Geometry , he was placed in regular geometry rather than honors geometry. We were disapointed, as he is a strong math student and his 8th grade math teacher had recommended him for the honors class. Can anyone familiar with Berkeley High recommend the best way to navigate the system to get him moved to the honors class? new to BHS parent

We went through the appeal process to change our daughter's placement in ninth grade. Just email the department head to make an appointment. We were able to get her into honors Algebra II after she was placed in honors geometry. She would have been repeating honors geometry after scoring straight 4's in her BSD middle school class (and getting a 600 on the STAR test) and that was simple not acceptable to her.

The high school placenment test requires students to manage their time in ways they are not taught in middle school. This is probably what caused my daughter to score poorly and did not mean she didn't understand the material. I don't think this is valid on the placement test, as the students will learn timed testing strategies in high school.

The high school teachers believe that the middle school teachers are not capable of teaching at the same level as they are. They were genuinely concerned that she would not succeed but she got straight A's in the BHS Algebra II class, even though her teacher was below the standard she was used to from middle school.

But please proceed with caution! As other posters have said, the high school math department will be a disappointment to many students. The teachers' opinion of themselves is higher than it ought to be. If your student is not very self-sufficient, he might be better off in the basic class. The honors classes go faster and further with even less explanation than the basic courses. - Hoping for improvement in the Math Department

I think there is no one right way to handle this: go on your gut feeling about what would be the correct level of math instruction for your child. If you are not sure, ask your child's middle school teachers. Mostly, I would trust your child's inclinations, and not let the test score determine everything. By all means, do all that you can, to prevent any class placement from reinforcing any negative perceptions your child might be harboring about his/her math abilities. (This is easier said than done however!) After all, the placement test is only one test or measurement - a snapshot. I will add my daughter's story, here, into the mix...

My daughter was in the accelerated BUSD program for math, meaning that she took Honors Geometry in 8th grade. She consistently got mostly A's in Honors geometry and her teacher was quite clear that she should move into Honors Algebra II. But her math placement letter came and said that she was to take Honors geometry at Berkeley High. So a kid who got an ''A'' in Honors Geometry was being told to retake the class. What is wrong with this picture?

In that placement letter, there was an email listed where you could send questions about the placement and so we wrote and explained the situation and were told that we could appeal the decision by asking for an override of the decision. This would mean meeting with a math teacher over the summer and talking about why we thought our daughter should be placed in Honors Algebra II or even regular Algebra II. At this point, we did not feel it was ethical to even consider a placement in Honors Geometry, making my daughter repeat a class that she had already taken and passed.

So I met with a BHS math teacher last summer and my daughter's middle school teacher wrote a very long and impassioned letter about why my daughter should not repeat a class. At the meeting, I learned that my daughter was one point away from entry to Honors Algebra II and that yes indeed, she had been tested on material she had not learned yet. But it was material that she did learn, just later in the year.

In this meeting, I was able to discuss the overall difference between an Honors class and a Regular class and was told that the Honors classes tended to introduce more difficult material earlier. The Honors classes usually get kids working harder faster. Knowing how my daughter learns, I signed a contract to override the math placement so that she could be admitted into Honors Algebra II. This form stated that the assigned teacher is under no obligation to provide additional support above and beyond what is provided to all students in the class and my daughter could not withdraw from the class.

My daughter's experience in her Honors Algebra II class was a great one. Her teacher was incredible. The material presented was difficult, but the teacher was smart, fair, clear and very thoughtful in her/his instruction. The teacher's methods were geared towards preparing the students for college. My daughter worked very, very hard - harder than she has ever worked, and she got an ''A''.

You should know though, that my daughter had friends in other Honors Algebra II and Honors geometry classes who did not have a positive experience. Their experience differed from my daughter's because of the teacher. I have heard from very many folks over the years that the quality of math instruction at BHS varies widely.

I do not regret advocating for my daughter's needs in this situation, at all. With the exception of her music classes, (which were great - inspiring, challenging) and maybe one other class, my daughter's experience in Honors Algebra II saved her Frosh year from being a mediocre academic experience. Or, trying to be fair, much of her Frosh year academics, (except for math, music and one other class), were not a good fit for her.

Throughout this year, I have heard of many parents who did end up appealing their child's math placement. I also have heard that many families needed to hire private tutors to augment their child's math class, especially for the classes taught by the less skilled teachers. That families might be expected to hire private tutors to compensate for a teaching deficit does not seem fair to me. Public education should not have to rely on this kind of private support in order to work for all of our kids. Our family could not have afforded that kind of outside intervention and I wish that the BHS math department could provide each child an excellent teacher and a more thoughtful placement. Diana


Freshman son didn't get in to honors geometry - should I push more?

June 2012


My son is entering BHS as a freshman in the fall, and he just received his math class assignment--Geometry (P). He's a bit disappointed because he took the honors geometry placement test hoping to get into the honors level class, but I guess that didn't happen.

My two questions for parents out there is, what role should I take in continuing to encourage his interest in math, and are my expectations for his progress in math realistic?

A bit of history--he excelled in math at his BUSD elementary school, was designated GATE, aced the math portion of the STAR test every year. He took the honors placement test for 7th grade honors math but was placed in the regular math class. He accepted this and did the extra-credit math challenges in his regular math class (although the problems were indeed challenging for him). 8th grade math was a bit of a dud for him. He had a well-liked, ''fun'' teacher but my son often complained to me that he couldn't focus on the actual instruction because the class would often get sidetracked by the joking around going inside the classroom. I often had to re-explain math concepts to him at home throughout the school year, since he said it wasn't explained well in class. He told me that he was hoping to get into honors geometry at BHS so he could be in a class with more motivated students and a teacher that would push him.

I didn't get much helpful feedback from either of his middle school math teachers, other than he was doing ''OK'' in their classes. He's a bit of a introvert so he doesn't call a lot of attention to himself, and since he's not struggling in math, I think he got overlooked a lot by the teachers. We had chosen this particular BUSD middle school over another in part due to its reputation of having a strong math program, so it's disappointing that it has not been the case for my son.

So I'm wondering, given his progression from elementary through middle school, is math something that is developmental, and some kids ''get it'' earlier than others, and the rate of progression is not always constant? Is there a point in his progression where I should have advocated more to the teachers on his behalf? I don't want to be a Tiger Mom, but I'm also wondering if I've been too passive. Also, he will be in one of the larger learning communities at BHS, so I expect that his curriculum overall will be rigorous at the upper levels anyway. wondering mom

Last year this time we, too, were very focused on getting the right math placement for BHS 9th grade. We appealed the decision and went to a few meetings, and did get in the honors class. But the hard truth is that most of BHS's geometry and algebra II instruction is very weak. The distinction between honors and regular classes have no meaning in the big picture, because they are so poorly taught.

My advice is hire a tutor at the beginning of the year and encourage your son to think like a college student... whatever he learns will be based on his own initiative, not his class level. Don't focus on the level/teacher... get a tutor who will help your son focus on loving math. We had a great Cal student (now graduated). He acknowledged that it sucks to have a disengaged teacher and poorly motivated peers ... but then he said, 'so it's like you're in college, everything is up to you. In high school you blame the bad teachers, but in college some of the most brilliant profs are lousy teachers. So you have to figure out what will help you learn, math lab, tutor, studying with friends. And you've got to find your own motivation... don't expect that to be handed to you. The important relationship isn't you and the teacher, it's you and the subject.''

This was a real turning point in our house. My kid started to think differently about every class. Good luck looking for the big picture

You son loves math? Please come to the Berkeley Math Circle! Every Tuesday from 6 to 8PM, kids from around the bay meet at Evans Hall for seminars in real math. September through May; about $180/year. This is not ''homework help'' or remedial math. Indeed, it's not math that you'll find in textbooks, school exams, or standardized tests. Your son will use his geometry experience to explore moves on an infinite chessboard; he'll discover an entire branch of math hidden within a Rubik's cube; he'll chatter with other kids about random walks and Ponzi schemes. It's math from real mathematicians - usually fun, often challenging, always fascinating. Your son will be around other kids who like science & math. And he'll meet professional mathematicians who inspire the next generation of math students. The Berkeley Math Circle is a local gem - few communities in America have such a club. If your son's interested in math, this is the place for him! (I speak from experience: my son, now a junior in high school, has been a member since 5th grade.) Cliff

Doesn't sound as if your son is developmentally ready for Honors Geometry. Navigating transition to High School is tough enough, so it may be a blessing in disguise for him not to have to be so challenged in Math. Also, does not seem as if your son, just ''gets'' math, as some kids do. Which is just fine. So, it seems as if all is well and he should focus on enjoying school and doing well in 9th grade. A math tutor in Oakland

I hope someone else provides suggestions on how to advocate for your child at BHS, because I never quite figured that out! But I will say that being in the advanced math classes made a huge difference in her BHS experience, for exactly the reasons you mentioned: motivated students and a teacher who expected hard work. So if there is any way you can get transitioned up to the honors level, I think it would be well worth it.

My student was in AC. Advanced math and Latin were two courses that provided a breath of fresh air in terms of experiencing actual teaching for a few periods of day, rather than the steady stream of classroom management she experienced as a core component of her other classes. Mom of soon-to-be Junior in college

Don't worry too much about your son having been placed into the regular rather than Honors track at BHS. From my children's experience, maybe one in 10 kids who tries to test into honors is able to pass the test, and that includes really gifted kids, kids who, once they are at BHS, their math teachers say ''why aren't you in honors? this is too easy for you?'' So clearly there's something not quite right about the test.

Your son will do okay in the regular math classes at BHS, and can find challenges elsewhere in the curriculum, at least by the upper grades. But yes, you may have to be a bit more of a tiger mom during the freshman and sophomore years to be sure that he's not slacking too much, as it's pretty easy to get by on minimal work in many classes. You might want to look into math tutoring, or something like Tilden Prep, if you can afford it, for bolstering his math skills so that when the time comes for the PSAT he's got the skills he needs. He might be able to test into an honors track later, but again, even the gifted kids still don't test in - my daughters tried again, between Freshman and Sophomore years, and still didn't get into honors, despite having over 100% on their math scores previously. Their Math SATs were strong but not stellar, and would probably have been stronger if they'd had supplemental teaching.

As the parent of a son, you may realize that the boys have a stronger tendency to slack off school work in both middle and high school. And what's going to matter most is his peer group, that's what I'd be checking in on, just as much as his teachers and class choices. He should look for classes and activities that draw motivated kids. And motivation comes in many forms - athletic, artistic, musical, dramatic, whatever floats his boat, keeps him busy and with kids who will also value doing well in and outside of school. It doesn't always have to be honors or AP/IB classes, but at least ones that are truly challenging on some level. Good luck! Parent of two BHS kids

My daughter was a year ahead in math in middle school in BUSD too. For her, geometry was a good experience, and also for most of her friends. She said it was the class where kids paid attention better than in any other class. must have been a different teacher. At BHS (in one of the 2 bigger programs) some of her friends opted to take honors geometry in 9th grade, instead of continuing the acceleration. I think they were very happy with their choice and it made the rest of transition into high school easier. (THIS may be doubly true for an introvert. Although even introverts find peers at BHS, especially in the two larger more academically focused programs.) Back to math...if your son is in BIHS and he begins high school math with geometry, then he should get a good grounding in geometry, which will prepare him for later work.

Also, the progression through math programs will be more in line with when the IB math test is given. THis was a problem in the past. The advanced math kids forgot a bunch of the topic by the time they took the IB math test in later years. So, if getting a good grade in an IB math test is a goal, taking geometry in 9th grade is a great idea. My daughter's experience was that Honors Algebra in 9th was challenging. Her teacher was not always very clear and had a very different approach to teaching math. Lots of group class work and tests were done as a team with all four students in the group getting the same grade.

This coming year for sophomores, BIHS is taking a new approach in order to get rid of the problem with taking the IB test a year AFTER the class was done. The BIHS rising sophomores who are ahead in math, will be taking statistics, and then will take the 11th grade course on schedule with their grade-level peers. Another reason that this is probably good is that many folks say kids are more ready for the advanced levels of math when they are 17 and 18. I guess those brains ARE still developing!

Let him go for the geometry. He will have a better freshman year, and can find a great set of peers in classes or in a club or on a sports team or in music. There is plenty of time to figure out AP or BIHS honors classes in subsequent years. Another BUSD Parent

The most important question for you to ask regarding your son/ daughter's math placement is How much does s/he like math? A student who takes Honors Algebra II as a freshman will take calculus as a junior. If s/he is interested in attending a selective college, s/he MUST take math as a senior. If s/he he does not like statistics or a university of interest indicates that won't count, that means finding a place to take sophomore level mathematics. Some years BHS arranges for an onsite class through BCC, but sometime the student needs to go to Cal (best option but hard to schedule sometimes and not cheap) or Laney. For a student who likes math, this is great; for one who dislikes it, it's awful at best. Judith Bodenhausen, retired head of BHS math department


Need info about the math placement test for incoming freshman

March 2008


I have a child entering Berkeley High in the fall. I would like to find out when the test for math placement happens, how much preparation is required and who to contact for more information. Any feedback would be greatly apprecitated. Thanks. Catherine

Regarding the math placement test at Berkeley High for incoming freshmen (this information is copied directly from the BHS etree):

The Berkeley High School math department will conduct a Honors testing for the 08/09 school year in April.

* The dates are 4/7, 4/10, 4/14, 4/15 and 4/17 and the exams will be given at 3:45 in room H306.

* Students take an exam to test into either Honors Geometry, Honors Algebra 2 or Honors Math Analysis. All exams consist of a 45-problem multiple-choice test to be completed in 45 minutes.

* Students need to bring a pencil and a scientific (non-graphing) calculator. Students new to the district also need to supply the e-mail address of their current math teacher.

Students new to BHS need to sign up with Mr. Weitz via e-mail to take the test. His e-mail is mweitz at

For current BHS students, they will sign up for the test in March. Mr. Weitz will have sign-up sheets available outside of the door to H113. Space will be limited so students should sign up early as new test days will be held only if the offered days fill up. No sign up = no test.

The policy on honors testing is all students who want to take an honors math class at Berkeley High School must pass the placement test unless they pass the previous Honors class at Berkeley High School with a B or better. BHS parent