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More rigorous high school math requirement sought 

 
Jacksonville Journal Courier
By Jake Russell
March 2, 2012

Illinois high school students could be required under a Senate proposal to take four years of math classes.

Some believe it could provide a beneficial edge for students, who are now required to take three years of the subject, but others worry it could set some students up for failure.

The Illinois General Assembly had second reading of Senate Bill 3244 earlier this week. The bill, introduced in February by Sen. Michael W. Frerichs, would amend the school code to require students entering high school in the 2012-13 school year to successfully complete four years of math to receive a high school diploma.

Carol Kilver, assistant superintendent for curriculum in Jacksonville School District 117, hopes the bill is based on direct research that indicates that rigor throughout high school helps in post-secondary education and employment.

With only three years required, some seniors draw back and do not maintain their math skills, though math concepts may still show up in other courses.

Jacksonville High School’s goal would be to make sure students are aligned according to their interests and that the continuation of math would support those interests, Kilver said.

The bill follows the heels of Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon’s statewide tour of community colleges and subsequent desire to implement policies that four years of math be taught in high school.

Most of the colleges commended Simon’s report, especially the push for four years of math in high school.

While the motivation is good, Jacksonville High School math department head Paul Herring is dubious it would have the desired effect in reality, he said.

Curriculum is already available at Jacksonville High School for students to take four years of math. Requiring it would indeed enforce a continued rigor for college-bound students, but would present a major obstacle for the 10 to 12 seniors on average each spring semester whose graduation is contingent upon them passing their current math class.

If the law were to require four years of math, courses would have to be generated addressing students’ levels of learning, Herring said. Failing students would have to take classes outside the building, double up in math courses or enroll for a fifth year of high school.

Angie Mayes-Heller of Jacksonville believes the requirement would be a good initiative.

“I recently went back to college at MacMurray and everyone was struggling with basic math,” she said. “I made it through the class, but it was a struggle.”

Kim Van Ordstrand of Frankfort isn’t sure four years are necessary.

“Personally I think the high school math program was more than sufficient,” she said. “Since my children were/are college bound, four years was ‘mandatory’ anyway. Unless a student is going into a vocational program for a career where math is highly used — pharmacy tech, medical assistant for example — I think three years for a non-college bound student is fine. I have never had to use geometry or algebra outside of school.”

As it stands, the amendment is somewhat vague, which makes it hard to determine if the intent is to increase levels of math — having students take calculus by their senior year, for example — or if it’s to maintain math skills that best serve a student at his or her instructional level.

“As it comes through, it will be the responsibility of the school district to provide a healthy format for change or improvements,” Kilver said.

Kilver believes all students could benefit from continual math development because of the subject’s ubiquity, she said.

“Math is the one thing you will be using for the rest of your life,” said Don Rapp of Jacksonville. “I am so thankful that I have a friend that helps me balance my checkbook and I always thought I was good in math and I had four years of it in school back in the ’50s.”