The Campanile, Palo Alto High School, vol. LXXVI, no. 2 (Oct. 30, 1995), page one.


by Tom Elke, Editor-in-chief

Recently some faculty have expressed concern over the math proficiency of the freshman class. Some worry that Jordan Middle School's curriculum emphasis of mathematical concepts over computation has brought general math ability down.

Suzanne Antink, Math Department Instructional Supervisor, believes that a large segment of the freshman class entered Paly without necessary computational fluency. In her opinion, the freshmen's math deficiency is, in part, the result of Jordan teachers over-emphasizing conceptual math at the expense of computational math.

"I believe that problem solving is essential," said Antink, "but I do think that [middle school students] can do more than they are as far as basic math skills are concerned."

According to Antink, the de-laning of math classes at Jordan has also had a large impact on students' math proficiency. Four years ago, A lane and B lane math classes were combined for seventh graders and the same de-laning occurred for eighth grade classes last year. The honors lane was left intact.

"De-laning does not accomplish its purpose," said Antink. "It slows down the kids with high skills and does not provide the extra attention that kids with low skills need."

The curricular changes at Jordan are not new. Four years ago the Jordan Math Department switched from a standard text based upon drill and practice to a more concept-oriented program. While computation is not excluded from the current curriculum, the emphasis is placed on critical thinking instead of number manipulation.

Gary Tsuruda, a math teacher at Jordan, believes that any decrease in computational ability is made up for by greater problem solving and critical thinking skills. "Computation is important," Tsuruda said, "but only if it leads to understanding and problem solving."

Yet Tsuruda admits that current students may have lower basic number skills because of the curriculum. "Something has to give when you shift from a curriculum based on procedure to one based on problem solving," Tsuruda said. "But [the middle school] feels that it is more important for students to problem-solve than to compute."

Tsuruda points out that the problem solving oriented curriculum has been in place since 1991. If the freshmen lack computation ability because of the middle school program, the other three classes should be having similar problems, since they were taught the same curriculum.

Paly freshmen seem to take the apparent controversy in stride. "It is true that math is really hard," said freshman Emily Paugh. "But I think it has more to do with the transition from middle school to high school than with the Jordan math curriculum."

Tsuruda has a long term view of the curriculum. "Overall, students' confidence and self-esteem about math have gone up tremendously because of our program," he said. "The longer we can keep math doors open to kids and motivate kids to love math, the better math students we will have in the long run."