Siegel: Instead of ending Algebra 2 requirement, redesign it

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Earlier this year, the Arizona Legislature considered House Bill 2278, which would end one requirement — Algebra 2 — that causes problems for some students trying to earn a high school diploma.

Mastery of Algebra 2 is needed for college admission. Students entering college who do not pass a math placement test must take a non-credit course, Intermediate Algebra, which is Algebra 2. Students must pay tuition for Intermediate Algebra and purchase the textbook, yet no college credit is received.

The thought behind HB 2278 was: Why require students not bound for college to take this course? Those opposed to this legislation argued that, if passed, it would “dumb down” our students. What the politicians should have done is seek real information on how Algebra 2 can be designed to meet the needs of various students, including those not bound for college.

My teaching experience makes me an expert on Algebra 2. I have taught remedial, grade-level and honors versions of the course. I taught the course to a class of exceptional eighth graders and I have taught Intermediate Algebra at various colleges. Some years ago, I was contracted by The Teaching Company to design — and be the instructor for — a 15-hour educational video series titled “Algebra 2.” I had to discern which topics were vital for the 30-lesson series to be successful.

The video was used by many homeschoolers, and its sales continued for 16 years. I know what belongs in Algebra 2.

Why is Algebra 2 vital for all?

Whether a person attends college or not, one must be aware of specific types of mathematical models taught in the course. College-bound students should take the standard Algebra 2 course in 11th grade; those who have excelled in math can take the course prior to their junior year.

Students who have struggled with math should wait until 12th grade to take Algebra 2 for Seniors, which uses an Intermediate Algebra text and helps the student avoid paying for the course in college. I have taught this course at three different high schools with great results. These students are focused on college and do a better job completing the coursework.

Math teachers should design a new Algebra 2 course in coordination with local business leaders to prepare students entering the workforce for the mathematical skills needed for many jobs. This must be done to ensure all Arizona high school graduates are properly prepared for life ahead.

Murray Siegel has more than 44 years of teaching experience and volunteers at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column was first published in the June edition of InMaricopa magazine.