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Some parents raise concerns about NHS math changes

But some parents worry that the changes proposed for next year’s ninth grade will mean fewer options for advanced students and a less challenging math curriculum overall at the high school.

“High-performing math students are expected to be on a trajectory that could lead them to college placement in science, technology, engineering and math,” Leeds resident Alan McBride wrote in a letter to the Gazette earlier this week. “There is concern regarding whether they will receive the instruction that they need.”

And Florence resident Becky Olander, whose son will be entering the high school next fall, said, “They say they intend to provide rigor for all and yet they are not acknowledging that we are losing something. They need to acknowledge this is a loss for some students.”

Details about the new course offerings will be presented to the School Committee at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at JFK Middle School. Administrators will describe plans to replace the existing four-semester course requirements in math at Northampton High with a new three-semester sequence called integrated math, beginning in ninth grade.

In place of separate offerings in algebra and geometry in ninth grade — including honors classes in those subjects — students entering the high school next fall will take three semesters of integrated math covering algebra, geometry, trigonometry and statistics.

The new sequence aims to boost math instruction in the ninth grade and allow more students to take advanced classes earlier in their high school careers because they will be spending fewer semesters in required courses.

“It’s a quicker road to the advanced classes,” said Christopher Brennan, associate principal and academic dean at the high school. “And the same material we now cover in algebra, geometry and geometry II, will be covered in those integrated classes. It just won’t be covered in the same order.”

Rachel Stavely Hale, head of the math department at Northampton High, said ninth graders who are already advanced in math will still be able to sign up for honors algebra and geometry courses next fall while the new course sequence gets underway. After that, students will have a path to advanced classes in their freshman year based on the results of a test given at the end of eighth grade.

Plans are being developed for an honors option within integrated math for students entering high school in 2015, Stavely Hale said. She estimated about 40 students each year sign up for honors classes in their first year at the high school.

Changes in math offerings have been under discussion at the high school for the past five years. They are linked to state Common Core standards and new teaching methods that emphasize problem-solving skills and applied math concepts, said Stavely Hale.

“We are not alone in this,” she said. “With the Common Core frameworks, we are now teaching statistics at every level, geometry at every level. It makes a lot more sense to group these concepts together” as they will be in the integrated math classes.

Math changes at the high school are also linked to changes made two years ago at JFK Middle School, Stavely Hale said, where advanced math was eliminated in grades 7 and 8 and replaced with a more rigorous “connected mathematics” curriculum.

That shift means more students are entering Grade 9 having already absorbed basic algebra concepts, Stavely Hale said, “freeing up” the high school to offer a three-semester sequence of integrated math.

Math changes at JFK also met with opposition by parents concerned about eliminating a track for advanced students. Middle School Principal Lesley Wilson said there were also parents who supported the change, adding that she believes “heterogeneous” math classes have helped more students master course material.

School parent Tina White said her children’s experience at JFK is the reason she is worried about plans for integrated math at the high school.

“What we’ve experienced at JFK is that some teachers are able to challenge the kids, but for others, it’s an effort,” said White, who has an eighth grader and a sixth grader enrolled at the middle school. “A lot of parents have been saying ‘Wait till you get to the high school’ for things to improve and now we feel betrayed.”

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