I have been thinking and struggling with these ideas for a week now. I read Dave’s post summarizing the study about repeating Algebra 1 and the lack of success in CA, and I really felt I needed to dive deeper in this topic.

So I read many link and downloaded almost every article that was linked in the following pages.

EdSource: Many math students are failing, repeating courses without success

Which leads to the Center for Teaching & Learning’s report: College Bound in Middle & High School.

As well as WestEd’s complete list of Reports (didn’t read all of these for this article) which features the above report. November 2012 is the date on it, so it doesn’t get more recent that that.

There is also this brief from EdSource on Math Readiness in CA.

Dave said something that caught my eye in my Google Reader, and started me down this road of thinking and stressing.

From my limited time in the classroom, too many students seem to have given up on their chance to go to college well before they even get to algebra I, much less algebra II, at least in terms of their effort towards improving their performance or achievement in mathematics. Yet, if you ask these students, they nearly unanimously say they want to go to college.

It was as if he taught in my department at my school!

Let me backup and tell a story of my department and school.

For the last six years we have had essentially one red cell at my school, SPED Math. Sometimes we have had ELL Math in addition, and one time we had Math as a red cell across the board. We have an extended learning period that meets 4 days per week, and the Math Department has been on the Remediation Roller Coaster teaching proficiency classes 3 of the 4 days for the last 6 years.

No other department at my school teaches during this time, but the math department has stepped up and has voluntarily rode the coaster.

Finally, we said enough this year, and we jumped off that coaster (and have caught some huge flack for it from some in our admin) and focused on freshmen. Now we each have a freshman class of Alg 1 learners who are struggling, and we work with them 45 min per day on math support and skills.

And some of them are choosing to continue to fail, and some are failing because they don’t know how to do middle school math.

Some of them can’t add –11 to 5 to get –6.

The “negative times a negative” is confused with the “negative plus a negative” so some are saying –4 + –5 is + 9.

Yes, these learners are struggling in Alg 1. These learners are the “Can’ts” I mentioned above. They are trying, they are struggling, working, and learning and they will turn into “Cans” by the end of the school year because of this one on one support.

But will they earn credit? I don’t know. They have 2 weeks left in the semester and that time is ticking away quickly for them.

How do we take these learners and get them Algebra 1 Semester 1 credit? According to the report by WestEd it looks bleak. But I have confidence from working with my classes that if we continue to give these Cant’s the constant support they will be able to earn both semester of credits.

Then there is the other group in my support class, the Wont’s. I have 5 learners that just won’t try at all. I am there one on one, I have mentors who are sophomores working with them, and nothing works. They are completely shut down.

These learners have hopes, dreams; they all say they want to go to college and do something with their lives, but they won’t do anything to make those dreams come to pass. How do we remediate this group?

According to WestED, making them retake Algebra 1 will not work. My anecdotal evidence supports the research as well. The Wont’s have made a decision, whether consciously or not, that they will not try. And they will not go to college, let alone graduate from high school without the Alg 1 credit.

According to the WestED report, the reason why is they were pushed into mathematics at a higher level then they were probably ready for. Since they were working far higher then their cognitive skills allowed, they just gave up.

How do we get a learner who has given up to re-engage? This is a struggle I face daily in my support class and as a department chair. I need to come up with a plan to help them, but no research I have seen gives me any confidence in how to approach this.

All I know is I can’t just say “retake the class.” That is a path towards failure on top of failure. It is also what our district considers “Accepted Practice.” (see number 16).

If anyone has any ideas, research, articles, or any other thoughts, please send them along. I need them. Badly.