OAKLAND -- Some Montera Middle School parents are concerned about the changes in the school's math program that have occurred in order to align it with statewide Common Core educational standards this year.
Advance math courses that have traditionally been available for the school's high-performing students have been slashed to comply with the new standards set forth by the district.
According the STAR test data, 117 seventh- and eighth-graders took advanced math courses last year.
The STAR test data showed that 69 seventh-graders took algebra in the 2012-2013 academic year. Of those students, 75 percent scored proficient or above. However, this year, the school is only offering a single advanced grade math class of 32 students for seventh-graders. Montera has for years been known for its strong math program.
"One of the things we were really excited about was the math curriculum at Montera," said Ann Sinclair, the parent of a seventh-grader concerned about the changes.
Montera Principal Tina Tranzor said that she is complying with the district's mandate to phase out accelerated math altogether in the seventh grade.
All the students meeting the criterion for the accelerated course with 32 students under the new curriculum were offered a seat in the advanced class, Tranzor said.
Criterion for placement in the class was based on a combination of grades, STAR test, the MARS test,
District Benchmarks and the Algebra Readiness Test. Twenty-two children were eligible in the first round.
"I didn't feel comfortable," said Tranzor, referring to the results. "I wanted to offer an opportunity to as many kids as possible."
Tranzor examined the remaining pool of students purely numerical data extracted from the MARS test, District Benchmark tests and Algebra Readiness test and identified 10 additional students eligible for the class.
"This is a nice triage until we get where we want to be," Tranzor said.
"We are learning to do differentiation in Common Core," said Tranzor. "We recognize that there needs to be differentiation in the classroom."
Under the Common Core curriculum, acceleration will start in eighth grade, when math-inclined students can qualify for a Math 8/Algebra Common Core class.
While Tranzor did not make students information public, she met with most parents to share their child's data. "When they (parents) saw the data, they agreed (with their child's placement)," she said. Information about the changes in criterion for the math program was transmitted to parents through a series of informational meetings, Tranzor said.
"The district representative could not answer questions at the districtwide meeting during the fall semester 2012 or the Montera meeting during the spring of 2013," said Kristie Boering, the mother of a seventh-grader, and a chemistry professor at UC Berkeley.
District representatives did not respond to inquiries on the subject.
"Overall, we are uncomfortable with the experiments going on in math and the way they are being implemented," Boering said. Although Boering's child was placed in the advanced math class, she chose to leave the school.
"We feel it is in no one's best interest to have students who are academically years behind and students who are academically years ahead in the same classroom all day for all subjects," she said. "It is an impossible job trying to teach across the entire spectrum of academic mastery and preparedness in one classroom."
"The big issue is to make sure that there are enough eighth-grade algebra classes for all of the kids who are ready for it, "said Sinclair, who is concerned that restricting students' options to take accelerated math in middle school will limit a student's eligibility to take higher math in high school.
Jane Nylund, the parent of a Montera alumnus who is now a freshman at Oakland Tech as well as a fourth-grader, questioned whether all students' needs will be met by the new math curriculum.
"I believe that Montera's strength in teaching math was that the administration was willing to advance kids that clearly had a passion and ability to perform higher level math," she said in a letter to Superintendent Gary Yee. "At the same time, Montera's math department offered support to those students who needed extra help. Since one-third of the students at Montera are testing below basic, this approach made a lot of sense.
"Here is the message I'm getting from Montera," Nylund continued. "We aren't interested in advancing students in math. We are interested in bringing students up to basic math.
"Montera is a public school and must meet the needs of the public," Nylund said, "whether they are below basic or advanced."