Virginia Superintendent of Public Education James Lane offered clarification on the Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative this week after Loudoun County School Board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) claimed on social media that it would result in the elimination of advanced math classes.
“Absolutely, acceleration is NOT going away in mathematics courses in Virginia, if a student needs an accelerated pathway they will absolutely get it,” Lane wrote Monday, according to NBC12 Richmond.
The VDOE website says VMPI involves a “math path” that would generally have students learn “foundational mathematics concepts” in grades K-7, “essential mathematics concepts” in grades 8-10 and “advanced mathematics concepts” in grades 11-12.
The proposal is part of the early stages of VDOE’s scheduled 2023 update to the Virginia Mathematics Standards of Learning, a process that occurs every seven years.
In an April 20 Facebook post, Serotkin described VMPI as “a sweeping initiative … to revamp the K-12 math curriculum statewide over the next few years.”
While he opined that the plan included “some noble goals” such as “provid[ing] a pathway for every student to be able to take calculus or higher math by the end of high school,” Serotkin went on to claim that VMPI would, as planned, “eliminate ALL math acceleration prior to 11th grade.”
“My first reaction to this was that it seemed absolutely bananas, and that it sets a soft cap on the number of higher math courses students are going to be able to take,” Serotkin wrote.
Lane said the Virginia Department of Education is “not eliminating accelerated courses [or] reducing rigor” in public school math programs.
“...if a student needs an accelerated pathway they will absolutely get it,” he said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, LCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis and Mathematics Supervisor Nicole Akers clarified that VMPI — which has been in the works since 2016 and was first publicly presented by VDOE last year — is still in the developmental stages.
“As with all new mathematics standards, there will be many opportunities for public comment,” Ellis said.
While Ellis said early conversation around VMPI included the potential elimination of accelerated Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 classes, updates to the VDOE website from earlier this week say content from these courses will not be eliminated but rather “blended into a seamless progression of connected learning.”
Relaying a statement from Lane earlier in the week, Ellis said VMPI “would still allow for student acceleration in math according to ability and achievement.”
“It would not dictate how or when students take specific courses,” she said. “Those decisions remain within different school divisions based on individualized learning needs.”
Serotkin updated his Facebook post on Tuesday to reflect the new information but said at the meeting, “There [are] clearly updates from VDOE that have come out that directly contradict … the way that they’ve been talking about [VMPI] for the last year.”
He also expressed concern that implementing a new, universal timeline for mathematics would cause issues for students who are in the thick of their educational careers if and when certain courses are added or retired, and that some students would have to repeat certain material regardless of prior success.
Though they did not have an immediate answer regarding LCPS’s response to such a potential situation, Ellis and Akers said the school system would collaborate with VDOE to determine how to care for students most heavily affected by the potential change.
“We obviously would never want to put students in a position to repeat content they’ve already been successful in, so we would absolutely need to address a plan for those students in the transition years,” Ellis said.
Akers added, “We definitely are going to look and make sure we understand the full scope of when these courses will retire, if they will, and make sure we set those students up for success.”
Beth Barts (Leesburg District) said much of the response to VMPI she’s heard during her weekly office hours has been from teachers, who generally support the program.
Like Serotkin, Jeff Morse (Dulles District) praised the separate ideas of integrating mathematical concepts and pushing deeper learning, but he was outwardly spektical of VDOE’s goal to pursue both ideals simultaneously.
“I struggle to see how a teacher who’s teaching a math course is going to be able to provide adequate attention to a gifted child and adequate attention to a struggling child on the same topic when one is going at light-speed and one is struggling and needing a lot of [assistance],” Morse said.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult to provide that level of differentiation,” he said.
Morse added that he would like to see VDOE initiate pilot programs to test the efficacy of VMPI before making it a statewide standard.
Denise Corbo (At-Large) echoed Morse’s sentiments, saying VMPI “might be a great idea in theory” while questioning the scientific basis for such a program.
“Not every educator is good at [differentiation]; not every educator understands how to do it and how to do it well,” Corbo said.
“We don’t want to get it wrong,” she said.
According to VDOE, the rest of this school year will be spent developing the essential concepts of VMPI, while a revision committee will start drafting the 2023 Virginia Mathematics Standards of Learning during the 2021-2022 school year.
If approved, changes to the Standards of Learning would not go into effect until the 2025-2026 school year.