Math classes useless in lead up to SAT/ACT

Anya Lomsadze

By Anya Lomsadze

When I took the ACT in September, I felt confident about the math section. After all, I am taking AP Calculus, a class with material that college readiness tests do not touch. So, I was very surprised to see a problem about a topic I was just beginning to learn in my calculus class. This raised a question: is the math at Grady preparing students for the ACT and SAT?

The SAT and the ACT exist to indicate a student’s “college readiness,” allowing colleges to predict how students will do academically at their schools. The skills tested are expected to develop as students progress through school, so it would make sense that schools work to make sure students are prepared for these tests by their latter years of high school. However, the structure of math education in Atlanta Public Schools does not prepare students for college.

There are three main tracks of math classes in APS. Students get lobbed into each on one fateful day in fifth or sixth grade based on a seemingly inconsequential placement test. I took mine at the beginning of sixth grade in the cafeteria. I was pulled out of class to take it and was only notified of it a few days before. I must have done well because I got put into the Accelerated Math Pathway, where I learned a year and a half of material each year.

The Accelerated Math Pathway meant I got to take pre-calculus as a sophomore; honors math students take it their junior year, and on-level math students take it senior year. The lessons taught in this class are vital for success on the ACT and SAT. Beyond being part of the standardized test curriculum, pre-calculus gives students a deeper understanding of past material. Unfortunately, most students at Grady do not get exposure to the material at all or early enough to be ready for the ACT and SAT.

Most people take the SAT and ACT their junior year, so to have been exposed to all the math they need, students would have to take pre-calculus their sophomore year. Only Accelerated Math lets students take the class their sophomore year.

Those in the honors math track learn pre-calculus concurrently to taking their tests. Most unfortunately, those on the regular math track will not have taken pre-calculus by the time they need to send their SAT and ACT scores to colleges. The structure of APS math education puts students on the normal, and even the honors math track at a significant disadvantage for “college readiness” standardized tests.

A significant part of a student’s college application — classes, GPAs and ACT/SATs — is predetermined by a placement test in the sixth grade. People who were sick the day of the test may have ended up in the wrong math track. Now, if they have time between the chaos of school, students have to learn new material they have not been exposed to in order to take the SAT and ACT. The math on these tests is already tough for the people on the Accelerated Math Track, and regular and honors math students have an extra burden to learn the material.

APS needs to level the playing field in math classes. Students should not be shelved into abstract math categories that predetermine their success on standardized tests. The math curriculum should be reformed so no matter what level of math a student has taken, they are exposed to all the skills they need to be ready for college. If that cannot happen, APS should at least look to reforming the placement test process, giving kids multiple opportunities to take them and informing students and parents of the consequences their test scores will have. One unassuming test must not have the power to affect a student’s high school and college career.