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Students Struggle With Math at SPHS

Parents critiqued much of the math department at a community forum last month. Faculty says it's fixing the problem.

About 100 frustrated and emotional parents—as well as some students—voiced concerns regarding math department at a forum Jan. 30, reported Tiger Online.

The meeting was a sequel to a previous one held in December, which was created to present parents with changes in curriculum related to Common Core Standards beginning 2014.

South Pasadena High School Principal Janet Anderson says she quickly realized at the December meeting “a lot of parents came and didn’t necessary want to talk about the agenda. ... They had issues with the current math program as it is now.”

Parents critiqued much of the math department last Monday citing unmotivated and inexperienced teachers, a of lack of continuity in course instruction and extremely hard tests.

Even parents showed up: “I don’t have an athlete as a kid; I have a math kid. It’s his life. And I’m very concerned, hearing that we have to get a tutor, or that he can’t take tests, or about the unfairness or lack of enthusiasm,” one SPMS parent said, according to Tiger Online.

Nothing New

Both Anderson and Superintendent Joel Shapiro agree that the challenges the math department faces are nothing new.

“We have been trying to change over the years to be more responsive to our students’ needs, entry level skills and attitudes towards math,” said Anderson.

“We’ve been taking steps for at least the time that I’ve been here,” concurs Shapiro. “The board has been much more intentional about making this a goal.”

And part of that process, he says, is to hear from parents and students.

One parent, who asked to not be named, says the lack of motivation and understanding on behalf of math teachers at SPHS dates back to over a decade before Shapiro’s time in the district.

“The problems (with teaching, not with the kids) are long-standing, and existed well before my older son arrived there in 1999. The administration is a bit resistant to change. ... Every few years parents get upset and have meetings,” she wrote to Patch in an e-mail.  

Strategic Goals

Since the math department has already been identified as an area of priority within the district—and math achievement is in its strategic plan—Shapiro says the board has looked closely at where to delegate resources.

When federal job money became available last year, for example, SPUSD created a position for a “secondary school mathematics coach ... to work specifically with teachers on assessments and instructional strategies in a variety of ways in which we can refine our program to improve instruction and improve student achievement.”

Anderson says she’s also been working with faculty towards implementing effective next steps. “[The teachers] really want to see the best things happen. They understand the urgency and want to be part of solution.”

Is Tutoring Necessary?  

If you drop by any given weekday (except for Fridays, because it’s closed), you’ll find a handful—if not more—of SPHS students getting tutored.

Tenth-grader Blair Newman told Patch in November: "Mathnasium instructors teach what teachers don't." She first came to the program to prep a few weeks prior to geometry finals last year.

“I think at some schools, parents are told or just expected [to get their kids tutored]. That is not our expectation,” said Anderson.

With SPHS’s on-campus student tutoring and hosting math-specific sessions twice a week, Anderson says she would hope students didn’t have to go elsewhere.

Most Teachers come in early and are available to help during brunch, lunch and after school. “They really do want students to come to them,” she said.

Parents’ Role

Head instructor at Mathnasium Neil Figuracion says, generally speaking, students can learn the concepts; the question is whether they’re getting the instruction they need.

Of his experiences as a instructor, he says: “Students would do well is certain regions not because the schools themselves are better, but because the parents were giving them more help or had the resources to do so.”

“That’s the big advantage that this community has,” he said in November.

One solution a parent suggested Jan. 30 was a Math Booster Club. The group, Anderson says, has already generated lots of parent interest.

“We are working steadily to improve the [math] program, especially with parent support and tutoring—we can really take advantage of this momentum.”

Click HERE for commentary on the topic from Patch blogger Robert DeFulgentiis.

WATCH Tiger Online's great video (attached) to hear what parents had to say at the meeting; click HERE for the full story.

marty c February 09, 2012 at 08:03 PM
From comments - teachers are the blame for their lack of enthusiasm to motivate kids to learn math. Math is a tool and doesnt appeal to most people. If your child isnt getting the education in math or any subject you and he/she thinks is important, Then either a parent or a tutor should assist the student.
Marvion February 10, 2012 at 07:10 AM
Duh lol,, what part of $288 + $100 + $100 + $100 SPSD property tax your not understanding? When I went to SPHS they tried to teach me the 'art of diagramming english' in my required english class (pre 1970 as I nearly failed the course).. When in college they said 'that's only for english majors'! So, here's a math trick I found along the way. 1+2+3+4=10 thus 1/2 of 4 times (4+1)=10.. What does the sum of all whole counting numbers from one-through-one-trillion equal? Answer: 1/2 of 1 trillion times (1 trillion + 1).. And this sum equals an apporximate constant for half of the air molecules in 1 centimeter squared~1 dimensional plane..
michael L May 31, 2012 at 06:44 PM
As a teacher at the high school, I want to say that yes we do have a couple of math teachers that just don't care... for the subject, and unfortunately, for the students, either. It is true that we have a love-hate relationship with outside tutoring services because they make US feel inadequate. I am one of the few with a graduate degree, so I am comfortable with my qualifications. Some teachers aren't and we can't blame them. It is very difficult to find good quality teachers, and even more so to find ones that actually care. We think places like Mathnasium perform miracles, but you have to remember that they get paid to care, while we teachers (in the school district) get paid to manage a classroom - i.e. babysit and teach what we can. Of course, it is much easier to be passionate about teaching a subject when you are a private tutor. I feel embarrassed about the comment from the "Local Educator" above. Who are we to suggest that Mathnasium (who has done so much for our students - based on what I've personally seen from my students) is "sponsoring" a message to makes us feel inadequate, or to make parents or students think less of us? We are who we are and we should be proud and honored to teach -really teach- our Tigers!
Kristen Lepore May 31, 2012 at 08:48 PM
@Michael L: I appreciate your honesty. You've obviously witnessed firsthand some of the problems parents have cited in this article. What do you feel can be done at SPHS to motivate teachers and add continuity to the math curriculum?
SouthPasresident August 04, 2012 at 11:35 PM
I'm not surprised they are struggling in math. Maybe that is why ONLY 4.5% of the non-asians graduates are going to a top 50 national university listed in US News annual rankings.

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