Is accelerated math right for your middle schooler?

Parenting a child who struggles with math can be frustrating, but parenting a child who excels in the subject comes with its own complications. One of those challenges arises in middle school, when parents face the occasionally easy, sometimes-difficult decision of whether to place their child on an accelerated math track.

Most students wait to take algebra I until high school. Some advanced middle school students get a head start by taking advanced math in seventh grade and algebra I in eighth. Others start even sooner, taking algebra I in seventh grade and geometry in eighth grade. These students are then on course to take algebra II as freshmen.

“A lot of those kids who are that advanced, they end up getting to take those really advanced math classes in high school — the AP calculus, AP statistics,” said Tabatha Moscone, department chair over math and a teacher at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami.

As a teacher who works with higher-level students, most of whom have already taken algebra and geometry, Moscone can tell that the level of math mastery varies.

“Some are right where they need to be,” she said. “And some, I think, ‘They saw this material already. This should be recall, and they don’t have it.”

Moscone said all schools are evaluated based on various data points, and middle schools with more students taking accelerated courses can get higher marks. That certainly doesn’t mean that these students are unprepared for accelerated math, but it may mean that some less prepared students getting swept forward with the momentum.

So how can parents know what the right choice is for their students? Florida Teacher of the Year Krista Stanley teaches sixth-grade math and has been a part of many such decisions. She suggests that parents start by asking how schools make their recommendations. At her school, they take into consideration the student’s previous FSA scores, teacher recommendations, and math grades from previous years.

On the SAT, on average, Florida students score 33 points higher on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) than they do on Math.

“Students who are ready to accelerate in math courses show constant mastery of grade-level standards,” she said. “These students are always provided enrichment opportunities because of the deep level of understanding they have for the math content and skills being taught.”

Parents should also remember that, when it comes to math, teachers are doing their best to meet your students right where they are — accelerated or not. That will continue regardless of their math placement in seventh or eighth grade.

“I set high expectations that show my students that I believe they are all capable of reaching mastery and challenging themselves,” Stanley said. “When students hear that they are capable of success from both their parents and teachers, there is no limitation to what they can accomplish.”

From her high school vantage point, Moscone sees some students take full advantage of their early, rigorous math instruction, while some others choose to dial it back. She would counsel parents to use these initial decisions about middle school math to begin further conversations about where their students want to end up after high school. Then, impress upon the students that the planning they do and classes they take will matter starting right from freshman year.

“Regarding middle school math, if a parent were to ask me, I usually tell them it really depends on your child,” she said. “You know your child better than anyone else and you know what’s best for them.”

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