Parents, teachers wary of plan to ‘de-level’ 8th-grade math in Crystal Lake District 47 middle school

Bernotas Middle School will have a pilot program with the new math structure

Eighth-grade students attending Crystal Lake’s Richard Bernotas Middle School will have a different math structure from the other Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 middle schools in a pilot program starting in August.

This mandatory pilot is an effort made by the district to better prepare students for high school, district Director of Math, Science and STEM Carolyn Stadlman said. But some parents and teachers are apprehensive that the change will create unfair differences among schools in the district.

Math classes typically are divided into levels based on students’ abilities. Whereas Hannah Beardsley and Lundahl middle schools have four levels of math classes, Bernotas Middle School will remove one level – eighth-grade algebra – meaning the school will integrate more students in different skill levels in the same class.

Parent Kendra Rogocki finds this “concerning,” as she has a child entering eighth grade at Bernotas in August.

“Now you’ve got one teacher with a very large range of kids,” Rogocki said.

The district “de-leveled” math for sixth and seventh grade across all schools two years ago. Eighth-grade algebra is described as similar to pre-algebra, while algebra introduces high school concepts, and “students in this course should expect a challenge,” according to district documents.

Parents of children entering eighth grade at Bernotas received a letter in late April that the school will be “de-leveling” its math curriculum structure. Rogocki requested to opt out of the pilot but was told that was not an option, she said. Her biggest worry is that grouping that many kids together will either create a pace that is too slow for accelerated learners or too fast for students struggling in math.

“My perspective is that we are looking for fairness, and what they’re proposing is going to, I think, disadvantage both the kids that need more support and the kids that are accelerated and need to be challenged more,” Rogocki said.

The district confirmed that parents aren’t being given an opt-out on the new math structure.

Moving all eighth graders to the same class “will best serve their students and provide access to higher-level mathematics for every student,” Stadlman said. Even with the de-leveled classes, Bernotas will have the same scope, sequence and pacing as the other two schools, she said.

“The course structure will give more students the opportunity to access the high school curriculum, which will prepare them for success,” Stadlman said.

The district is using Bernotas as a pilot to try it out with a smaller group before implementing it districtwide, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Aimee Kasper said. The district will have regular meetings with teachers to review data.

“So we talk about it a lot,” Kasper said. “Once we evaluate the data, then we’ll make the decision, along with the math committee, on whether this is going to move forward with all the middle schools.”

If some students fall behind in class, teachers can provide extra help in the classroom or by providing extra support outside the classroom.

“It’s meant to be accessible to a wider range of students. It has some intervention and differentiation pieces built into it,” Kasper said.

The change is supported by Bernotas eighth-grade math teachers and is “a teacher-driven initiative,” Stadlman said. But teachers expressed concerns about the change to Stadlman and to Bernotas Principal Kellie Marks, according to emails obtained by the Northwest Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“But as students’ brains develop and are ready for high school-level coursework ... we aren’t giving it to them properly,” one Hannah Beardsley eighth-grade math teacher wrote in one of the internal email. “I just don’t get it. I want data and reasoning.”

The change also will come with a new math curriculum that was approved by the school board in March. District 47 bought Illustrative Math for $1.2 million after a 6-1 approval from the board.

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