IMP Math in Small Schools at BHS

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How can I get my 9th grader out of IMP Math?

Nov 2013

This topic was hotly debated a few years ago, but I feel that it's time for an update. Our child has ADHD and attendant problems, including social difficulties working in groups. When her 504 Plan was set up at King this past spring, the primary discussion point on the part of her English and Science teachers was her inability to function in groups. However, math has always been her best subject, and she had no problems there, always bringing home top grades, and even deciding to become a math teacher when she grows up.

This year she's a freshman in AMPS (Academy of Medicine and Public Service), and AMPS -- like most other small schools at BHS -- uses the Interactive Mathematics Program. Overnight, math has gone from being her best subject to her worst. Now she's earning Ds and Fs (while getting As and Bs in all other subjects).

I did some research, and a few years ago some parents published VERY HEATED comments about IMP math on this very forum. And just now I discovered a blistering review (commissioned by the BUSD) by Prof. Harry Wu at Cal.

Here are some highlights of Wu's report:

[S]everal aspects of the IMP curriculum are disturbing...
(a) The almost total absence of drills. To master a language, certain skills must be performed correctly without conscious thought, i.e., must become automatic, and this is the purpose of having drills.
(b) The inability of the IMP text to follow through in its presentation of new ideas.
(c) The misrepresentation of mathematics through the abuse of \xc3\xa2\xe2\x82\xac\xc5\x93open-ended problems\xc3\xa2\xe2\x82\xac\xc2\x9d and the de-emphasis of correct answers.
(d) The presentation of mathematical puzzles (also known as brain-teasers) as straight mathematics.
(e) The refusal to acknowledge that mathematics could be inspired by abstract considerations.
(f) Insufficient emphasis on precision.
(g) Over-emphasis on group activities.

If a camel is the horse designed by a committee [writes Prof. Wu], what then is the kind of mathematics learned exclusively from compulsory group activities? Is it really necessary to elevate mathematical gregariousness to a virtue?

I now realize that we must get our child into a ''regular'' math class PRONTO. Yet her adviser tells me that absent an IEP (which she's never had), she'd have to fail math for two years, or nearly, before being allowed to take a core course outside the AMPS program.

I'm unwilling to let that happen. Do you have any advice for how I might go about it? I'm willing to go to the District, if need be.

Thanks very much in advance.

Your concerns about IMP math are all valid, including everything you cite from the Dr. Wu analysis of IMP. There is one thing that you may not have taken into account, though -- and which Dr. Wu would not have known about when he wrote his excellent article. This concerns how ill-suited AMPS math classes are to the group ''problem solving'' which IMP is based on. Group problem solving, as I am sure you know, involves breaking up into groups to pool knowledge, strategies, and skills.

The most recent data I have seen shows that only 2% of AMPS students are proficient in math. This means that in any given AMPS math class, there is likely to be at most one child who is at grade level. The rest will be below -- and some might be as much as 8 years below grade level. (Some cannot do column addition, for example.)

Picture 30 teenagers, 29 of whom are not proficient in math, trying to solve high school level math problems in groups. Factor in the high level of drug use of AMPS students during the school day. A disproportionately high number of AMPS students also have reading and writing difficulties, so that too will come into play when they attempt to read word problems and write down the answers. Add in a very significant amount of classroom noise (shouting, swearing, rap music being played on speakers).

Imagine, if you can bear to, how much a child with ADHD (or any child) would learn under those circumstances. It is impossible to conceive of an arrangement where a child with ADHD would learn less math.

Dr. Wu's criticisms of IMP pale beside the problem of the AMPS learning environment. If IMP were given to a class of quiet, focused, high-achieving math students (proficient in reading as well as math), despite the short-comings of IMP, they would still learn a lot -- though as Dr. Wu points out, they would not be adequately prepared for any kind of college path involving math. But IMP is the worst possible choice for a group of students with a 2% math proficiency rate, many of whom have substance issues.

It is absurd for the school to suggest waiting for your child to fail for two years before a change can be made. Then where will she be? Further behind than she was when she left King, her math confidence destroyed, and certainly not ready for 11th grade AC math.

Only the principal can switch your child to AC math and it would take him about 2 minutes to do it. Do not waste your time running in circles, from counsellors to superintendent to vice principals to school board and back again. They do not have the authority to make the change. Insist that the principal allow your child into regular math and don't give up. Please keep us posted. very sympathetic

Our family has never been involved in BHS, but I wanted to respond in case you don't get any answers.

I have had to advocate a lot for my foster son, a teenager, and I can't tell you how many times I've been told something can't be done that absolutely CAN be done, or the times that I have been misled by partial answers. What has worked for me is to ask open-ended questions along the lines of ''What would you do in my situation?'' or ''What is your best solution for this problem?'' Sometimes people will surprise you.

And for those many times they don't, keep asking around and telling people what your child needs. Posting here was a good idea. Talk to the other counselors, the principal, the school district, the school psychologist. Do some online reading about rights and 504s. I would also use that 504 as leverage. Schools tend to discourage you from asking for testing because they have to pay for it, so you could ''threaten'' to request further testing and further need for accommodations if they don't agree to this simple step now. If you request testing in writing, the school must comply by law. Just make it clear that you'll be doing that immediately if your child doesn't get switched into an appropriate class.

It took me 25 phone calls to find a way to get braces paid for by the county for my foster son. You just have to keep pushing and keep asking questions. During my 25th phone call, someone mentioned that there's a person who writes checks for braces. I reported this to my social worker and in two weeks there was a check ready for our local orthodontist. NO ONE mentioned this along the way, yet somehow the social worker knew what to do when I told her what I'd learned. Persistence pays off, and I think your request sounds logical and reasonable. don't be stonewalled

We stayed away from all of the ''small schools'' at BHS precisely because of the inadequacies of the IMP math curriculum. If you want your daughter out of IMP math, get her out of AMPS and into AC for next year. And be prepared for her to begin high school math again where she left off in 8th grade. You can try barking up many trees, but BHS and the District are pros at saying No to parents. You know - 'if we make an exception for your child then EVERYONE will want an exception too.' And they are right - everyone will. Because the IMP curriculum is a travesty. Notice that it is not foisted on the ''more academic'' (and whiter) IB and AC programs. If you want to save your daughter from IMP get her into the lottery for AC for 10th grade and have a good reason other than IMP why she needs to switch to AC. Best of luck. Standard math Mom

If BHS will not allow your child to transfer out of IMP Math this year, I suggest you create a free account for your daughter on the Khan Academy online. Have her do a few minutes of math every day. The Khan Academy has excellent problem sets with instant feedback on whether you are doing it right. If your child gets stuck, she can click on the short video of Khan explaining the concept. Your child can maintain and deepen her algebra skills and learn new geometry skills so she does not fall behind while in IMP. Khan has a very different approach from IMP. It is mastery-based, not discussion-based, and gives immediate and accurate feedback (unlike the feedback of a confused peer). If there is any gap in her math background (say she never understood factoring, or was confused about fractions), she can click on the module on that and master it.

I recommend setting a very manageable amount she needs to do every day -- like 10 minutes -- even if she has other homework. Just build it in like brushing teeth. She may resist because who on earth wants extra work the teacher did not assign ... but if you can tie it to a reward (or wifi use!) and somehow get her to do it, she will be in a completely different place at the start of 10th grade.

If anyone in your household likes math, she could do it with that person ... whatever will make it the most fun.

I hope this helps!

And BHS does let some kids out of IMP Math even though they say they don't. What might be REALLY hard is getting out of AMPS. Your zip code will be a huge factor in whether your daughter will ever be allowed out. If your zip code is, for example, 94708 or 94707 your child may be stuck with AMPS for four years. If your zip code is 94710 your child will likely be allowed out at the next lottery. math teacher

Why is IMP the only math option for small schools?

Oct 2009

The small school concept at BHS is admirable and provides substantial benefits to students by offering a study program that focuses on individual students' interest, skills and goals. However, the recent decision to rescind previously available options in math instruction for small school students calls for reconsideration.

A student assigned to one of the small schools are also assigned to a single option for the study of mathematics, regardless of individual interest, abilities or aspirations. Thus, my daughter, who desires to study Geometry, is placed in the only option available. IMP, (Interactive Math Program).

My wife and I believe that the IMP program is not an appropriate course of instruction for our daughter needs, as it doesn't offer a complete instruction in mathematical techniques and falls short of logically interrelating core mathematical concepts.

We fail to understand why certain doors of opportunity are closed to a significant number of students, based solely on small school affiliation. As currently implemented, the small schools rigidly deny reasonable and available educational opportunities to a select group of students. IMP should not be a mandatory course of study or the only available option for every individual student within the small schools. A rigid inflexible system that unreasonably limits available educational options may risk diminishing a students' future interest and opportunities in education and life. Does anyone agree?

I think Math will be the hot topic of BHS 2009-2010, along with overcrowding. BHS has become more intractable this year. It seems the only way to get anything done is to file an official complaint. There is an unreasonableness about the math program that is perplexing. IMP math is so difficult for so many kids, and the test scores go down almost every year. You have to wonder why there are no evaluations being done of the program. Many parents - including disadvantaged parents of color - in the small schools are distraught about this but there is a zealous, almost fanatical defense of IMP math that doesn't fit reality. If it is good for some kids, fine. But why does it have to be such a hard line matter? I have heard teachers say that it will work when the stronger kids can bring along the weaker students. But even if this theoretical situation is true, is it fair to banish those stronger students to a life of mediocre math skills? There is a desperate situation at BHS in math (one small school has a 2% proficiency rate) but no one is trying to figure out if IMP could be part of the CAUSE of the problem, and it might be. Look at the text book - it is all words. If a student isn't very literary or conceptual, it is really hard. Some kids read numbers more easily than words - what about them? BHS mom who was warned to stay away from IMP and is very glad

The community needs to pressure the Berkeley School Board to force Berkeley High to give parents a choice in their childrens' math program. Only 1% of California students are enrolled in IMP math courses. The proficiency rates of BHS students in IMP math have been in steep decline for years and have now hit zero for IMP 3. It would be helpful if the BHS administration, their expensive consultants at BayCES, and the School Board would enumerate the documented reasons for continuing with IMP math. There is very little evidence that it helps struggling students. At the very least those who don't want their children in this program should be able to place their children in the regular math program. And let's hope that the new 'engineering' small school will not force students into IMP math, since there is no way one can become an engineer without a mastery of differential equations, the Fourier series and Laplace transformations, skills that are most definitely not addressed in IMP math.

If our school district wants to sell us on IMP math, then show us the numbers (hopefully without parents having to file public record act requests, which is not exactly the way to go if an institution aims for transparency). Many of us have been told for years by BHS officials that IMP students do just as well as regular math students in AP Calculus. Okay then. Show us the AP Calculus test scores of IMP & regular math students. Show us the percentage of IMP students who take AP Calculus compared to the percentage of regular math students who take AP Calculus. Show us the SAT math scores of IMP & regular math students. Certainly the most recent CST scores demonstrate that IMP math does not give students the foundation they need for future success in any type of scientific field. To suggest otherwise is cruel.

My son is a sophomore in Arts and Humanities Academy at BHS--so he was able to take regular geometry last year, and algebra 2 this year. AHA's math flexibility (last year) was a primary reason we chose AHA. I can understand the serious frustration of students and parents when official printed statements (that there will be flexible math) are not honored by BHS after students have made their school choice based on that understanding. I think it is critical that BHS consider the implications of lack of trust from the parent and student community.

As BHS plans a likely switch to a trimester schedule, it will be even more important that there be responsive flexibility in scheduling so that students can take the right math course for their needs--AP, IMP, regular, extended time--whatever is appropriate for that student.

However, I think it is important to note that I and my son have been happy to very happy with AHA teachers for English, Humanities,Science, and arts both last year and this year-- he came to BHS from a small private middle school and I think his teachers in AHA have been concerned, gotten to know him, encouraged him-- so we have been very happy with the small school environment.

So my preference is to push for flexibility in math and language classes --both for the small schools, and even more with the likely move to trimester scheduling--but also to recognize very positive elements of the small schools... Do the right thing BHS!

My daughter is an AHA freshman and choose IMP Math. We are only 1,5 months into the school year, but she is happy about her choice and feels that the IMP approach to learning suits her better. I think it is fabulous to have the choice between two math learning approaches and feel that Berkeley High is supporting the diversity of learners in our community. Unfortunately the option of choice seems to be disappearing from the small schools. When my daughter and other 8th graders signed up for Berkeley High , the AHA brochure stated that AHA students take Math in the big school and have a choice which program to take. Apparently they changed their policy and now kids don't have the choice anymore. I can understand that some students and parents must be feeling cheated after such a bait and switch maneuver. It seems most unprofessional to change the plan in mid air.

Remember when Howard Gardner came out with his idea of the 8 intelligences? My kid is happy with IMP, because she is a creative, free form thinker. But now we are putting kids who excel in a more structured and linear way of thinking into the dog house. We need to support both ways! To me the discussion is not about which math is better, but why can't we continue to have both. I hope that Berkeley High will see that it is important to honor the different learning models and by that give all our kids a chance to excel.

I am so sorry to hear this is still happening at BHS. My kids were at BHS 10 years ago, before the advent of BHS-wide small schools. They were both placed in the IMP-like math classes, then called CPM. It was totally anathema to their learning styles. They could not learn math with group discussion, peer-supported learning, and math textbooks that consisted of stories, cartoons, and recently invented terminology. I have an MS in engineering myself, so I have a decent math background, but I actually could not help them with homework because their textbooks matched little I had ever been taught. As they began to turn off to math and fail their CPM math classes, I begged and pleaded with BHS to please allow them to learn math in the traditional classes that were available to other kids at BHS. I signed one kid up for traditional math over the summer, he worked hard and did well, so to me it seemed so obvious that my kids could succeed at math if it were just taught in a different way from CPM. But when I brought this up with their teachers and the head of the math dept, I was met with unyielding refusal along with explanations about the benefits of CPM. So they suffered through years of CPM, failing or barely passing. "Some kids just don't like math," the math dept. head told me. Maybe my kids would have hated math anyway and would never have wanted to study sciences or engineering in college anyway. But we'll never know - it was all decided for them as 14-year-old freshmen. In retrospect, I wish I had taken them out of the BHS math classes altogether, if for no other reason than to preserve the openness to math they started HS with. Maybe they could have taken online classes, or summer classes, or community college classes. I feel really guilty when I think about this. Math is so important for the careers that are going to save us from climate change and disease and malnutrition! We need our kids to have a good solid background in high school math so every one of them can at least have the *option* of a science career, even if they decide later they don't want that. I thank you for speaking out about this, but do whatever you need to do for your own child, too. Let's lose as few future scientists as we can! Mom of 20 somethings


IMP Math in BHS Small Schools

Feb 2009

Re: Entering freshman confused about AC vs. international program
Small schools are NOT homogeneous despite the commentary so far in this newsletter and the academics vary according to the teacher as in ANY BHS school program. In his small school, my son took honors option for IMP Math (next year there will be a formally UC-recognized Honors IMP course for 9th graders, had a 12 page research paper in history for NINTH grade, all of his English/History teachers also offered an honors option (more, deeper work assignments) and he took AP English and AP Calculus as a senior [... ] (Editor) see above link for the rest of this posting.

I'd like to correct a statement by Karen H about IMP2 Honors. She said, ''Next year there will be a formally UC-recognized Honors IMP course for ninth graders.'' This is incorrect. I went to the UC website:

It clearly states:

''3. Honors level courses must be designed for 11th and 12th graders who have already completed foundation work in the subject area. Ninth and tenth grade level high school courses that schools might designate as ''honors'' do not meet the UC honors level requirement and therefore are not granted special ''honors'' credit by the University.''


''c. Mathematics. UC-approved honors level courses in mathematics must be at the mathematical analysis (pre-calculus) level or above.''

There is lots more information on that page.

Also, last year about 140 or 150 BHS students took the IMP 2 standards test and only 5 tested proficient or above. In 8th grade, our family was strongly warned to stay away from IMP because for many kids, it makes learning math harder. I don't know if BHS or the Superintendent is mandating an evaluation of the IMP program or not but it sure looks like they should. The regular honors math program at BHS is pretty strong even if it isn't (and cannot be) a UC-recognized Honors class. Every kid I know who is in it says it is very challenging. Parent of a sophomore at BHS

The School Board adopted an honors IMP2 class at a recent meeting. The class IS UC eligible as an a-g class. By the way, the Integrated Math standardized test is based upon a different curriculum than BHS's Interactive Math Program which makes it difficult to use the results of that test to measure IMP student's progress (this is according to a presentation made at the Board). The challenge (and the excitement) for students is that IMP is based upon the WHY of the math. Its project (ie. problem solving) based rather than formula based math learning. Its a way of approaching math that really works for many students - those that are more conceptual and/or intuitive in their thought processes (for example, the type of student that ''did better'' in Geometry rather than Algebra), the student that learns more ''hands on'', and the student that is looking to extend/deepen their understanding of math as a tool (interested in being an engineer or scientist). This is very different than the math that most of us grew up with and may feel more comfortable with. Karen H.

A recent post about small schools states that their IMP math program ''is based upon the WHY of the math.'' The post explains that this math program is project based rather than formula based math learning, and proposes that this will prepare students for careers in engineering or science. It is extremely unlikely that a high school student who fails to achieve a score of proficient or above in the California standardized math test will be able to pass the Professional Engineering examination. An aspiring engineer must pass this test in order to practice engineering in California. The Professional Engineering examination is not based upon the WHY of the math. Once again the California Standardized Test (CST) math performance of the small schools at Berkeley High is far below the rest of the school. In 2008, the percentage of small school students who scored proficient or above on CST math ranged from 2%-20%. The remainder of the school population that scored proficient or above on CST math was 31-32%. This data was presented to the School Board at their 1/14/09 meeting. Maureen

Regarding the message from Karen H. about IMP math at Berkeley High. It may ''really work'' for lots of students, but what about the kids it doesn't work for? My two bright boys, now in their 20's, were not allowed to take traditional math courses at BHS because of their sub-par performance on the middle school exam. So they flunked their way through all their project-based ''collaborative'' math classes because the group learning and ''why'' approach did not work for them. These classes were pitched to the ''kids who don't like math'' as the math dept. head told me, and my kids definitely did learn to not like math. I learned a lot about pleading with math dept. heads, and paying for private tutors and summer catch-up classes. In the end, the son who went to college was unprepared for anything except for the easiest popular culture type classes. The other son did not finish high school. I'm a mom with an advanced engineering degree, married to an engineer, and I expected my kids to at least have the option of choosing the sciences or engineering in college, but that was all decided for them by freshman year in high school. GO


Entering freshman likes CAS, but what about IMP math?

Feb 2008

Hi--our 8th grader at a small independent school is heading for Berkeley High next fall-- we've really appreciated the thoughtful posts and discussions on BPN, and think a small school would be good to ease our son's transition (plus he's not the self-directed academic powerhouse type...)--We're being told (by two sources at the school)that kids in CAS or CPA can ONLY take IMP math--is that really true? Is there any way around it? Our son wouldn't be aiming at honors math, but he's done ok in algebra, and I hear worrisome things about IMP math and SAT's thought regular geometry would be a better placement...?

Would really appreciate input--plus any recent updates on small schools--eg impact of change in CAS director, update on AHA classroom discipline issues (report from friend on problems from freshman 2006 year) etc etc. It is so hard to get an accurate sense from outside the system... optimistic but concerned mom

Yes, in order to focus, CP Academy and CAS are only teaching IMP (with a greater success than when they were teaching both!). My senior took the IMP sequence and is now in AP Calculus where he received an A this semester. The main difference between IMP Math and ''traditional'' math is that IMP is problem-based and integrates various types of math such as algebra and trigonometry as part of the solution to the problem. So for example, the ''problem'' (this would be an entire unit) may be planning for a successful rocket launch to the moon and the students are asked to figure out the various variables and then ''solve the problem'' by determining route (trigonometry), speed, fuel requirements (algebra),etc. In order to solve the problem, the students learn the math needed so its really an applied math type of course (and there is usually more than one way to solve a problem so understanding the concepts behind the math is very important). Some students may need some practice with how the SAT presents problems (not as experienced with drill type work) BUT this isn't a CONTENT question, merely a test taking issue. AND for students that aren't as math oriented as others, the conceptual way that IMP approaches math can make math more interesting and relevant - and for those that ARE strong in math it is great preparation for engineering, applied physics, etc. If you have any questions, you really should talk to Matt Bremer. He is an IMP Math teacher at BHS and one of the primary folks that developed the nationwide IMP curriculum. There is ALOT of misinformation about IMP. I've heard parents say that IMP isn't college math (yes, it fulfills the CSU/UC requirement), doesn't lead to higher math (students completing IMP 4 are ready to take regular or AP Calculus), etc. NONE of these widely held beliefs are true and unfortunately some of the BHS and middle school counselors are perpetuating these myths. Quite frankly, IMP is how math SHOULD be taught (though I do believe that IMP requires really good teachers to really work - but as a group, the IMP teachers ARE very good). anonymous

Both CAS and CPA offer only IMP math. If your child is in CAS or CPA, this is not something you can get around. There is a lot of research on IMP. The website is a great resource and also includes sections designed to inform parents and students. There is no evidence that IMP students do worse than other students on the SAT.

I can speak for CP Academy and say that we have found that high skilled students are challenged by the IMP curriculum, because of it's heavy reliance on real world problem solving which introduces math topics as they are needed. We have also found that the success rate for all students in math has been remarkable with the IMP curriculum, and that students who start out BHS behind in math skills perform far better with the IMP curriculum than they did when we offered the CPM sequence of Geometry, Algebra II and Math Analysis. Because we start our all our freshmen at the IMP2 level, all of our students have the ability to take four years of math in our program, including AP calculus, if they so desire. Annie

In answer to the questions raised about CAS... You're right... all CAS and CPA kids do take IMP. In fact. SSJE kids do, too. As of now, AHA students take math in the big school. We're proud of the education kids get in IMP; their standardized test scores are shown to be equal or higher than test scores earned by kids who take traditional math classes and the IMP approach to teaching math, which emphasize collaboration between students and real-world problem solving, aligns nicely with CAS's philosophy toward education overall. (I encourage you to visit the IMP website to learn more:

Finally, I would love to communicate directly with members of the community about CAS. We are proud of our small school and I'd be happy to share an overview of some of the exciting things that we're doing and to answer questions. If you'd like to learn more, please drop me an email. Sincerely, Phil Halpern CAS