Lowell HS Alumni Math Petition

To the SFUSD Board of Education,

As you know, Lowell is an alternative high school within SFUSD, and “Fiat Scientia” - let there be learning - is our school’s motto. Students choose Lowell because they feel an urge to learn. We, the alumni of Lowell, strongly oppose the one-size-fits-all requirement that all entering Lowell 9th graders be placed into the same CCSS Algebra 1 course, regardless of their actual individual proficiency and learning needs. The new flattening of personalized learning pathways for all Lowell students will have profound, grave, and limiting implications for the rich learning opportunities that attracted us to Lowell Alternative High School in the first place.

The purpose of this petition is to support the Lowell Family’s request for a waiver to the one-size-fits-all math requirement and to explain from the Lowell alumni's point of view the many learning opportunities we will lose if the Board does not grant this waiver.

We see major problems for the math program and the science program at Lowell. Our first concern is that without universal placement tests, Lowell students will not receive math instruction suited to their own understanding and interest in math. Students who demonstrate proficiency to take 9th grade CCSS Algebra 2 (Accel), for example, will be forced to start in a class two levels below, and those placed into CCSS Geometry will start one level below their level of understanding. Generally, over 70% of students take Accel or CCSS Geometry their freshman year. Thus, this plan would be holding back the majority of Lowell students.

We also do not support the rushed combination of Algebra 2 and Precalculus (two years of math instruction) into one year at Lowell. We feel that limiting math classes will only provide students a superficial understanding of the concepts related to these courses and will not properly prepare them for calculus. As a result, enrollment in calculus will inevitably drop. In the past three years calculus enrollment has been over 200 with this year (2014-2015) having 373 students enrolled. We are proud that so many Lowell students take higher level math courses when they are ready.

Under the new rules, Lowell students will lose the right to take AP Statistics in their sophomore or junior years once they have satisfied the prerequisites. The last few years, non-seniors have accounted for 16-17% of all AP Statistics students and have actually outscored seniors on the AP Statistics exam. Restricting students from AP Statistics will limit the flexibility that Lowell students seek in planning their classes leading up to their senior year.

In addition to the limits on new students’ math opportunities, we feel there will be ripple effects on students’ opportunities in other subjects as well.

Without access to acceleration in math, Lowell students will also lose access to many algebra-based physics courses that are high in demand. Currently, in order to take algebra-based physics courses (AP Physics 1, 2, and 1+2 Accel), students must have completed CCSS Algebra 2 and CCSS Geometry. If SFUSD’s new plan were put in place at Lowell, students would no longer have the option of taking these physics classes before their senior year. This would mean that Lowell would have to discontinue our calculus-based physics class (AP Physics C), because AP Physics 1 or AP Physics 1+2 Accel are prerequisites.

The new math plan would restrict Lowell students’ access to advanced chemistry classes. In order to take AP Chemistry, students must take CCSS Algebra 2 as well as a previous chemistry course, thus opening the course to both junior and seniors who have met both prerequisites. Under the new plan, AP Chemistry would be restricted to seniors due to the math requirement.

Since many upper-level science courses would be limited to senior year enrollment, Lowell students would have far less opportunities to advance their knowledge across multiple science disciplines. Limiting higher-level exposure to scientific and mathematical topics would be damaging to students, given the high demand for jobs in the STEM fields.

The new math rules also raise questions of fairness in the different treatment of public and private school-educated students entering Lowell. Under the new plan, private school students entering Lowell have the right to test out of CCSS Algebra 1, while public school students entering Lowell are denied this right. (30% of Lowell students come from private schools.) This means that they will have the opportunity to complete their math credits and have access to higher-level math and science courses earlier. We feel that by not allowing all incoming Lowell students to test out of Algebra 1, SFUSD would be discriminating against SFUSD students at Lowell by not giving them the ability to demonstrate their capabilities to do a higher-level of math than Algebra 1. We feel this may be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

In summary, we the alumni of Lowell, hope that the Board will grant a waiver to allow equal placement opportunities for all students at Lowell Alternative High School. We believe that a waiver is the only way to preserve the diversity of courses and unlimited access to learning that make Lowell such a special learning environment within SFUSD.

Sincerely,
Lowell Alumni
(Petition was prepared by the Lowell School Site Council student representatives)

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