More opportunities emerge for students to “advance” in math and science courses, changing the norm at UAHS

by Sophie Yang, ’19

A Changing Trend

Three years ago, UAHS hosted 23 class periods of physical science. This year, the number has plummeted to 14. Each class of Upper Arlington students is larger than the last, and yet, roughly 200 less freshmen are taking physical science now compared to during the 2014-15 school year. The same is true for Algebra I, which has since lost 4 class periods of freshmen.

This data taken from Powerschool archives shows a growing trend among younger classes of students. With more opportunities to advance levels of math and science, freshmen and sophomores are increasinglying taking higher-level courses earlier in their high school careers.

Opening Opportunities

According to Elizabeth Hughes, co-chair of UAHS’s counseling department, students don’t “skip” levels of math and science, but rather complete the courses in different ways. Some of these ways include classes offered at the middle school and self-studying for a flex-credit or readiness exam.

“No one’s jumping over any levels, but they’re completing the level,” Hughes said.

Regular and honors physical science courses being offered at the middle schools are two new factors that have contributed to more students in accelerated studies.

According to science teacher Frank Tuttle, co-chair of the science department, this opportunity was first offered during the 2016-17 school year after a district-level administrator brought up the idea.

“[The administrator] came to the science department, talked with us, and talked to the middle schools,” Tuttle said.

An algebra explanation is scrawled on a whiteboard. Students who take physical science in 8th grade must be concurrently enrolled in Algebra I or have finished the course. Photo illustration courtesy Lucas Rosas.

Previously, students who wanted to start biology freshman year would pass over physical science entirely. Hughes said that one reason physical science waswere added at the middle schools was meant to prevent that.

“Physical science is the science that’s really going to be fundamental for preparing students for all other levels,” Hughes said. “They didn’t want students simply going ahead into biology… [the decision] was a combination of knowing that there was a desire to take the higher-level biology [as freshmen] but also knowing what the state requirements are.”

In addition, Tuttle said that it gives students more time to take sciences.

“If we can get the physical science [credit] out of the way in 8th grade, then that gives us more years to potentially get five credits of science,” Tuttle said. “We’re trying to get data out of Powerschool to figure out what kind of impact it does have.”

Freshman Emma Wang, who is currently taking Honors Algebra II and Honors Biology, finds that the harder classes give her a valuable challenge.

“Some benefits are that you learn things at a faster pace. It might be a little more challenging, but that’s what high school is about,” Wang said. “I can [also] finish my high school [classes] early [and] take more AP classes.”

I think it’ll benefit me because when I go to college, I want to go through engineering school. [Being ahead] will help me to be able to take some classes like pre-engineering at the high school.

Freshman Eddie Dominek

In freshman Eddie Dominek’s case, taking Honors Geometry and Honors Biology his freshman year will help him fit in classes for his future career.

“I think it’ll benefit me because when I go to college, I want to go through engineering school,” Dominek said. “It’ll help me to be able to take some classes like pre-engineering at the high school, so I’ll have some knowledge before going to college.”

A student completes homework. Higher-level classes typically have larger workloads, which is another challenge for younger students. Photo illustration courtesy Green Chamelion.

A Wrong Fit?

Despite the opportunities provided by moving into higher-level classes, Hughes finds that an accelerated path doesn’t work for everyone, mentioning that some students will enter higher levels of math but drop after junior year.

“To be ahead and then to stop doesn’t really serve anyone any purpose,” Hughes said. “That’s what we always go back to [when talking about whether to move ahead]: what’s the reason why?”

Furthermore, Hughes emphasizes that the types of math and science a student takes should depend on their goals.

“I think when people try to take honors everything or AP everything, they don’t really love it, and then that kind of spreads across to all other classes,” Hughes said. “It’s about the right class selection for each individual and taking them when you should… What are you passionate about? What are your strengths?”

I think when people try to take honors everything or AP everything, they don’t really love it… It’s about the right class selection for each individual and taking them when you should.

Counselor Elizabeth Hughes

According to Hughes, some students struggle in higher-level classes when they’re taken too early.

“Science is very content based, so I’ll have a lot of students that will sign up for honors biology and then drop to regular biology because it’s too intense,” Hughes said.

Freshman Eddie Dominek agrees that taking classes earlier can be more rigorous.

“Maybe you have more stress because those classes are designed for older students,” Dominek said.

Readiness testing is one possible solution to make sure that students who enter accelerated classes are prepared to do so. Freshman Henry Redder, who is taking Honors Geometry and Honors Biology, supports this idea.

I’ve seen people who have struggled a lot with [advanced] classes. I think that they should have to take a test [before skipping] so they don’t fail the class.

Freshman Henry Redder

“I’ve seen people who have struggled a lot with [advanced] classes,” Redder said. “I think that they should have to take a test [before skipping] so they don’t fail the class.”

However, testing was not required in the middle schools to move ahead in math or physical science. In fact, all students could choose to take physical science if they had already completed 8th grade math.

Some also argue that requiring testing before moving into more challenging levels may deny opportunities to bright students who don’t test well. Requiring a teacher recommendation is similarly controversial.

A student completes geometry homework. Content learned in geometry — such as proofs and trigonometry — are built on in future years, showing one example of how the math curriculum is connected. Photo illustrtion courtesy Tamarcus Brown.

Missing Pieces

Tuttle said that the 8th grade physical science program will ensure students are prepared for higher-level classes.

“That’s one of our concerns as a department: how do we make sure all our students have the basic information? When students get to physics, we are under the assumption that all of our students took physical science and some basic tenants of physics have already been covered,” Tuttle said.

However, Tuttle noted that by taking physical science as an 8th grader, students would miss many concepts taught in 8th grade science. Although students must study 8th grade science over the summer, they may not fully understand all of it, meaning they may miss the only earth science content taught throughout middle and high school.

This is only one example of “gaps in knowledge” that might hinder students in later levels of science. Covering math concepts quickly can be detrimental as well since knowledge and critical thinking build over time and are often revisited.

Freshman Emma Wang points out another issue with skimming over certain concepts.

“I think one big problem is the SAT and ACT,” Wang said. “When you take these tests, apparently it isn’t a lot of AP stuff — it’s mostly stuff you might learn in the middle of high school. The problem is that because we’re learning everything really quickly, it might not actually be as well-learned as someone who just goes with the grade level.”

A student prepares to begin homework. Photo illustration courtesy Thought Catalog.

Lasting Changes

As opportunities to “get ahead” have now been added, it’s possible that more chances will arise in the future.

“[The first year] physical science [was offered], there was no honors. The second year, we offered Honors Biology, which we had never done, at the high school. A very few would come to the high school, but not many,” Tuttle said.

Additionally, statistics show that more freshmen are beginning high school with geometry and biology. Freshman Andy Armstrong, who is among these students, has noticed this trend.

“I think definitely a lot more [freshmen] are in the higher-level math and science than the juniors and seniors,” Armstrong said.

Like Armstrong, freshman Henry Redder supports students entering high school in harder math and science classes.

“I really hope they do [move toward higher level classes]. I think it’s be kind of tough just starting it right now… People skipping over precalc to go to calc, I think that would be difficult. But I think starting a new generation with Algebra I in 8th grade would be good,” Redder said.

We have a significant amount of [sophomores] taking Chemistry and Honors Chemistry, so much that we don’t have any free classroom space in the chemistry classrooms.

Science Department Co-Chair Frank Tuttle

Although concerns remain that younger students will be pushed into classes that are too difficult, the changes have caused a strain on the school’s resources as well.

“We’ve got a wave of students coming through right now,” Tuttle said. “We have a significant amount of [sophomores] taking Chemistry and Honors Chemistry, so much that we don’t have any free classroom space in the chemistry classrooms.”

However, regardless of how the opportunities to advance are received, students are increasingly starting high school with biology and geometry, and it appears that this trend is here to stay.