Alarmingly High Drop Rate for Aragon’s Accelerated Math Classes??

The controversy first reported to me and expressed in the article title above has been resolved after I met with Assistant Principal Berggren. Please be sure to read my meeting report in the third Comment following this article.

[IMPORTANT NOTE updated 2/16/19 at 9:30 AM]  After receiving a reply from the Aragon math department on 2/14 which I mentioned in the first Comment following this article, I met with Assistant Principal Berggren the morning of 2/15.

I initially posted a second brief Comment below regarding that meeting on the 15th and have now posted a detailed meeting report in the third Comment below.  This report includes additional comments emailed by Mr. Berggren to me after he reviewed my draft report.

In a nutshell, the percent of students who transferred out of the accelerated math class last year is much smaller than the number reported to me, but that incorrect information to parents originated from the school, so the reports that I received passed along that incorrect number!  That said my meeting report includes many important issues that Aragon wants students and parents to be aware of, so I strongly encourage readers to read it in its entirety.  Thank you!

In response to my recent article about class selection for the 2019-2020 school year (deadline is coming up soon), I’m hearing reports that the drop rates in Aragon’s accelerated math classes are alarming high.

Note that students are supposedly prequalified before being allowed to take these classes, so we aren’t just talking about the average high school student hitting a math wall here!!

Can anyone provide precise figures, either publicly to me or anonymously??  I will try to get this information from the school directly, but I am not one of their favorite people these days…  Parents of current students are more likely to get a direct response than I am unfortunately.

If parents are signing their teens up for these accelerated classes and these reports are true, then they should be aware of this information!!

I am also concerned that siphoning off the top students into these accelerated classes may be lowering the expectations in the traditional Algebra 2 classes.

As I stated in my recent article, based on my direct experience with students I think these compressed classes are a bad idea for the significant majority of students.  If students *just have to be* accelerated, it makes more sense to take the full classes in summer school or CSM rather than the compressed classes.

The compressed classes follow this approximate schedule:

Geometry (first semester) / Algebra 2 (second semester)

More Algebra 2 (third semester) / Precalculus (fourth semester)

Precalculus is a VERY challenging full year regular class at Aragon; doing it in half the time and then going on to Calculus (especially jumping to Calculus BC) strikes me as pure insanity…

On the other hand, I am also concerned that, since top students are being diverted into the accelerated classes, the teachers may have lowered expectations for those in the regular Algebra 2 classes.

When I first started tutoring seven years ago, the district was using a more traditional textbook from Addison-Wesley or Houghton Mifflin/Holt McDougal  (I forget the publisher, but think it may have been the latter).  Later they switched to CPM.

My earlier Algebra 2 students would bring home assignments from the textbook that included some challenging problems.  Recent Algebra 2 students seem to be using mainly worksheets, with little use of textbooks.  They often complete their homework assignments in class, and do not seem challenged.  Thus there is a danger that those pushing their students into the accelerated track are also making it more difficult for parents whose teens are good in math but do NOT want to be on this crazy hamster wheel…

I would appreciate your comments on both of these issues in the Comments section below if you care to react publicly.  Otherwise, please feel free to contact me privately.


Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

4 thoughts on “Alarmingly High Drop Rate for Aragon’s Accelerated Math Classes??”

  1. I have just received a reply from the Aragon math department. I was referred to the administration to get official figures, but was told that the numbers I was given by a parent were “extremely incorrect.” Due to confidentiality reasons, I can not say why, but I still have no reason to doubt the parent’s report. I would not have made this post if I did not think that the report was credible.

    I was also told that “the accelerated classes have been successful and there aren’t many issues as long as the student is eligible.”

    When I asked about the drop policies, I was told only that “All parents/students that sign up for accelerated classes are well informed about options.”

    I have left voicemails with both the principal and an assistant principal to try to get further details and will report back when I get a response.


  2. I had a productive and very cordial meeting with Assistant Principal Ron Berggren this morning and was told that the information about the percentage of students who drop the accelerated math classes which was given by school staff to a parent was incorrect. The actual number is significantly smaller than what was reported to the parent. I am writing up a more detailed report on our meeting, but wish to run it by Mr. Berggren first to ensure complete accuracy. I will post that information when it is finalized.

    Mr. Berggren objected to my use of the term “dropout rate” in the article above, so I want to emphasize immediately that the use of that term meant only that students were dropping the accelerated math class and going back to the regular math course, not anything more dramatic than that, i.e., they are *not* dropping completely out of school. I shortened the term from “dropout” to “drop” to clarify this point.


  3. I met Friday morning (2/15/19) with Aragon Assistant Principal Ron Berggren to learn more about my issues regarding the accelerated math classes. We had a very cordial and productive discussion for about 35 – 40 minutes.
    Mr. Berggren thought that my use of the term “dropout” had too many bad connotations.  I explained that its meaning was only to signify that students were dropping the accelerated math class and going back to the regular stream, but I agreed to clarify this point and have done so in earlier comments and edits to the original article.
    Mr. Berggren did not report a precise drop percentage to me, but said that it was much lower than the 25% figure that I had heard.  He acknowledged that this incorrect higher figure originated at the school and that unfortunately this wrong information had been communicated.  Last year 5 or 6 students dropped from one of the accelerated classes and 2 or 3 dropped from the other one.  I do not know how many students started both classes.  
    Mr. Berggren indicated that students did not have a problem falling back to the regular math stream up to the third week or first grading period of the semester.
    He said that students may also change classes at the semester.  This year there were three students that withdrew from the accelerated class at the semester.  None of the students had been recommended by the Math Department to “accelerate” but had chosen either on their own accord or due to parental influence to attempt the course.
    He emphasized that there are criteria that the Math department uses to recommend students for the program; it is not just based on a teacher recommendation.
    Mr Berggren also stated that Aragon has consistently had two of the first year accelerated classes and two of the second year classes.  He thought that seven or eight students wishing to change classes over the course of a year is not “an alarming statistic” that parent should be aware. However, Aragon does emphasize to everyone that these are fast-paced courses.
    Mr. Berggren asked me why I would be concerned even if the drop figure was as high as 25%.  I said that my main concern is simply that parents should be informed of the drop rate, if it is significant like the 25% figure that I heard, before allowing or encouraging their teens to sign up for accelerated classes.
    If a class is very challenging, and, consequently, many students decide to drop it, that is not necessarily a bad thing as long as they are aware of this challenge before they sign up.  I was concerned that students might sign up after receiving word from their teacher that they are eligible.  The elation from this honor might unduly influence their decision, but this elation would be tempered if they also knew the drop statistics in advance.
    I mentioned that every year I receive calls for help mid-year that I can not assist.   I wrote my blog articles to try to help stop these situations before they happen.  I do my job to try to impart a love of science and math to students who want to learn the subject, and instead I run into several students each year who are stressed. Having to bail out students who have fallen deeply into a hole due to either a flawed AP system, students’ desire to keep up with their “smart friends,” and/or parental pressure was not my reason for becoming a tutor.
    I told Ron that I do not like the fact that the whole AP program and the push to accelerate students feeds the tutoring business. Obviously this makes me a lousy businessman!  I believe that public education should be an open pathway for all students, but the AP system is increasingly requiring the use of expensive tutoring which makes the system inequitable.
    I also mentioned that I see students struggle daily with AP problem sets that are far too advanced and tricky for most high school students.  Even though many students pass the AP exams, this is often because the passing grade is set very low by the College Board as I have detailed on my blog.  I remain very concerned about the quality of the AP learning experience even in the case of the “successful” students.
    Good teaching practices try to build a solid foundation first.
    I related my concern that AP problem packets, instead of focussing on a small number of key concepts at a time, tend to integrate topics from many parts of the entire course into single extended problems.  Students get hit with these before they have even mastered the component concepts.  AP problems may be great problems at the END of a class, but they are used prematurely throughout both semesters of the class.  I also noted that elite private schools such as our local Crystal Springs Upland have dropped the AP curriculum.  Mr. Berggren was aware of this fact.
    Mr. Berggren likes the AP curriculum but he wished the exam could be eliminated.
    We agreed that we are both concerned about the “overloading” of students schedules and want parents and students to understand that they can be focused in their course selections. They do not have to take every single AP or advanced level course to succeed.
    We discussed the accelerated math sign-up and drop process. Mr. Berggren felt that the school bent over backwards to counsel students about the rigors of these classes, but that the school’s warnings were often overridden/ignored.  This has also been my experience when I issue warnings on my blog and directly to students. Mr. Berggren said that he often attends parental meetings where AP warning waivers are signed to acknowledge overiding the school’s advice.  I mentioned that I wished more parents would prevent their kids from overloading on these classes instead of allowing the students to make the decision for themselves.
    I asked Mr. Berggren to send me a copy of the information given to parents if students try sign up for several APs, and he agreed to do so.
    Unfortunately, one topic that I forgot to cover with him was my concerns that the expectations of students in the regular math classes may have been lowered as a consequence of siphoning off the better students into the accelerated classes.
    Mr. Berggren disputed this in his follow-up email saying,
    “There is not a lowering of expectations in the Geometry and Algebra 2 classes because a number of students were “siphoned off” into accelerated courses.  We have 440 9th grade students and 425 10th grade students all enrolled in Math classes!”
    As he had already been very generous with his time yesterday and this was obviously a brief response, I did not want to impose on him further at the time.
    The number of students enrolled in the class speaks only to the necessity to take math through 10th grade, so I will leave this topic for another time. He may have been implying that, given these large numbers, there are still good students in those classes. As I stated in my blog article, though, I am getting the impression that the complexity of the regular course textbook and the assignments for Algebra 2 may have decreased over the last seven years. I will be the first to admit that this is only my personal impression at this point since I am focussed far more on precalculus, calculus and physics students these days.


  4. As I final note, I just sent the following email to Mr. Berggren, Principal Kurtz, and math department co-chair Adam Jacobs:

    Hi Ron,

    I have posted the meeting report and also updated announcements on my blog and Nextdoor. Thanks again for your assistance and time!

    Some day (absolutely no rush as I do not expect the AP curriculum to change anytime soon), I would like to sit down with Adam Jacobs and you and go over an actual AP calculus review packet. I’d like you to see in detail the concerns that I have about the AP curriculum and put some detailed “meat” on my comments. Many of these AP problems are specifically designed to trip up students unless they have mastered a really incredible amount of detail for a high school student. I deal with kids struggling with this material every day, as does Adam, and I strongly believe that my concerns are valid. This is why the percentage grade bar for even a 5 on the AP exam is set so low. *** The test is specifically designed to be difficult in order to fight grade inflation in student transcripts and spread out the curve for college admission offices. It serves that purpose admirably but is a crappy educational tool! ***

    Unfortunately almost no parents are in a position to understand these concerns unless they still know calculus and can understand these AP exam problems. In those cases they are probably constantly tutoring their own kids and getting them over the hurdles. For those who are unable to do so, the outside tutoring bill can be crushing unless one is very well-to-do.

    While the AP curriculum will not change, I think the above proposed meeting would add significant weight to my argument that Aragon should consider an Honors Calculus program. You have a decent AP Calculus textbook for AB and the classic Stewart textbook for BC. It would not take massive course revisions to just teach out of these textbooks, use the supplied homework problems which are often currently assigned, and dump the AP packets and exam.

    This would be a much better and less stressful education for many students and give them a much better educational alternative than currently dropping all the way down to Finite Math!!


    Dave Kristofferson


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