Administration Alters Freshmen Math and Science Course Placement
Issue 5, Volume 111
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic altering how schools operate this year, the Stuyvesant administration has made changes regarding the math and science classes offered to the class of 2024. Both the Enriched Geometry and Geometry-Algebra courses, separate from the standard freshmen geometry course, are not offered this year. The administration has also used SHSAT scores to determine students’ Advanced Placement (AP) science class placement rather than the Living Environment Regents examination scores as in past years.
Typically, incoming freshmen take a placement exam to evaluate their appropriate math class during Camp Stuy in June. Depending on their performance, students are eligible for Geometry-Algebra, Geometry, Enriched Geometry, or Algebra 2/Trigonometry, and may qualify for math team.
The Camp Stuy placement exam was not administered this year, however, as a result of complications raised by the pandemic. “Because we could not hold Camp Stuy in June, we were unable to administer a [math] placement exam to incoming freshmen. The second part of the placement exam is used to determine both honors and math team placement; without it, we had no way to determine who should be programmed for the honors classes,” Assistant Principal of Math Eric Smith said in an e-mail interview.
Teachers and administrators initially brainstormed alternative methods to determine students’ math courses. “I proposed using math scores from the SHSAT [to] place the top-scoring students [into] the Enriched Geometry class. I, however, discovered that [the] SHSAT math score is a poor predictor of placement exam score based on prior data. We had no Regents grades because all Regents were waived in June, and we had no middle school grades because middle school used MT/N/NX grades as a final grade in place of a numerical grade,” math teacher David Peng said in an e-mail interview. “We had no choice but to remove Enriched Geometry.”
In substitution of a placement exam, freshmen and their families were instead asked to complete a math survey form, in which they answered questions about their experience in math and submitted a copy of their final 8th grade transcript. “Incoming families fill[ed] out a form on our incoming portal on Talos specifically for biology and math (and other departments) to submit their preferences/choices and give their background information,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said in an e-mail interview.
Peng expressed his disappointment that the math department was unable to provide either course this year, citing the unique benefits of each. “Enriched Geometry covers a great deal of additional topics in Geometry that just aren’t taught in any other non-Problem Solving class, and the Geometry & Algebra course really helps those freshmen reinforce concepts from Algebra I that are needed in geometry and beyond,” he said. With the dual Geometry-Algebra course cut, freshmen ineligible for Geometry (because they did not learn the material for Algebra I in middle school) are taking Algebra I.
Some students feel indifferent about the change. “I’m currently taking Geometry,” freshman Allen Fertidos said in an e-mail interview. “This was expected since I took Algebra 1 in 8th grade […] I don’t think anybody would be too disappointed seeing as [Enriched Geometry] isn’t something we desperately waited for. ”
Other students, however, are displeased with the removal of Enriched Geometry. “I originally was hoping to possibly take Honors Geometry, because I heard it was easier to stay in the Honors track if you do take it, and [I] like math, so it was kind of disappointing that they didn’t have it this year,” freshman Amanda Cisse said in an e-mail interview.
Still, students will have the opportunity of entering the honors track for their sophomore year. “Placement into honors courses is based on teacher recommendation, so it shouldn’t make much of a difference when planning for Honors Algebra 2 next year,” Smith said.
Though the administration was unable to host the Camp Stuy placement exam which usually determines math team, students are still able to participate in the team. About two hundred students interested in math team attended Zoom call tryouts and took a placement exam on Google Forms.
Regardless of their performance on the exam, all of the students who showed up to tryouts were invited to a four-week summer session to prepare them for the course. “Students who felt like they did not do well [on the exam] or wanted more practice could go, and their extra involvement would boost their likelihood to be on the team,” Cisse said.
Senior Math Team members organized Zoom classes for potential candidates to review solutions, learn new topics, and take practice contests throughout the month of August. “Students who attended were evaluated holistically based on attendance, participation, completion of problem sets, and how they performed on the tryouts,” Peng said.
Along with reworking math classes, the administration had to come up with a new method to determine freshmen AP science placement. During a normal year, incoming students take the Living Environment Regents exam in June if they are enrolled in Living Environment in middle school. Placement in freshmen AP science classes—AP Biology and AP Environmental Science—is usually determined by Regents score. Students not enrolled in an AP science course take Honors Modern Biology.
Former Principal Eric Contreras and Assistant Principal of Biology Elizabeth Fong, along with the AP science freshman teachers, came up with a solution to the dilemma posed by the lack of Regents last summer: SHSAT scores. While students indicated their top choice science classes via a science survey on the same Talos portal as the math survey, the SHSAT was the primary metric. “The freshman AP bio program has been very successful the last two years, […] and so the school wanted to see the program continue,” Biology teacher Marissa Maggio said in an e-mail interview. There was simply not any other option on which to base their placement into freshman AP.”
Students had to have taken and passed the Living Environment Regents class, however, in order to be considered for an AP science class. “I originally did want to take either […] AP Biology or AP Environmental Science,” Cisse, who is enrolled in Honors Modern Biology, said. “I personally am not in an AP Science course right now, but I think I probably would have, had my middle school offered a regents science class.”
The decision to use SHSAT scores put students who participate in the Discovery program—an initiative directed toward students who scored within a certain range below the cutoff score on the SHSAT and are from a low-income household and school, allowing them to gain entry into specialized high schools—at a disadvantage. “I got into Stuyvesant through the Discovery program. Students in this program often get scores ranging from 470 to 500, which is most likely not enough to [qualify for] an AP class. This new decision totally disregard[s] these kids,” Fertidos, who is taking Honors Modern Biology, said.
Non-Discovery students were also frustrated by the lottery system of course placement. “I did not get my first choice science class, AP Biology, but was placed into AP Environmental Science instead,” freshman Hellen Luo said in an e-mail interview. “[Yet] students who scored lower on the SHSAT were scheduled to take AP Biology, which was also their first choice science class.”
Similar to how students’ SHSAT scores have little correlation to their performance on the math placement exam, some students have doubted whether or not the scores have any correlation to preparedness for an AP science course. “At first, I regretted not taking AP Bio seeing as everyone [else was] taking it, but then I started to see so many complaints and [people who] dropped out of the class,” Fertidos said.
Teachers anticipated incoming students’ struggling with the faced-paced nature of the class. “I did foresee that there may be issues with the pace and the difficulty of the content in the remote world, which is why I set up a tutoring program between former AP Bio kids and the current group. There are currently a group of 50+ sophomores and juniors working with the current freshmen,” Maggio said. “I have three sections of AP, and it is running well. The change has not had an impact that I have noticed, and students are performing on par with students from the previous two years.”
Freshmen AP science course placement in the coming years will depend on whether the Regent exams are administered. “We plan to use the data from this year to see how useful SHSAT scores are in placing students to determine if this will continue to be a factor that is included for placement of future incoming freshmen,” Maggio said.
On the whole, faculty is uncertain about how Stuyvesant will proceed with future placement exams. “The hope is that these changes will only last this school year, with the hope that a placement exam can be given for the next incoming freshmen class. Given the current climate, it’s hard to predict what will happen next month, let alone next school year,” Peng said.
The administration, however, remains optimistic about the recent alterations to freshmen courses. “I have full confidence in the […] teachers that they will be able to challenge students in their classes,” Smith said. “Deep breaths. It’s all going to work out.”