Math Department frustration prompts feedback survey

By: Aaron Faier, Editor in Chief; Nora Sun, Technical Editor; Megha Khemka, LSC Correspondent; Melissa Penafiel, Contributor; and Juliette Latva, Contributor

The Math Department Feedback Survey was the first of its kind to be launched this year.

As faculty and students navigated the first quarter of in-person learning after a year and a half of virtual instruction, many found themselves struggling with the pressure of functioning at pre-pandemic capacity in a still far from normal school year. For some students, this trend felt particularly prevalent in math courses, as many students expressed concerns about struggling to understand content and perform well on assessments. “There are multiple students struggling to grasp the subjects,” a junior in Precalculus BC reported. Teachers too have faced their own struggles, both in dealing with personal adjustments and attempting to meet their students’ needs after a year of online math.

While student and teacher experiences vary from class to class, similar trends have come up across in multiple different math classes. In particular, student frustration has often come from feeling there is a lack of support in and continuity among classes. In an attempt to organize students’ feedback, gauge specific student needs, and inform policy and instructional changes in the math department, an anonymous survey was sent out by the Payton Local School Council, math teachers, and Student Government.

A freshman who filled out the survey described feeling like students were “[put] in the deep end with no prior knowledge and expect[ed] to be able to swim.” He thinks a solution could lie in a policy change, though. “Providing additional opportunities to check student’s understanding on [concepts] without it going into the gradebook would be beneficial because if a student is not understanding something and then it is reinforced by a D in the gradebook, that doesn’t help the student learn.”

Math courses at Payton, particularly in the BC track, have always been rigorous. However, this year has seen the introduction of a new grading scale. In previous years an 85-100% range was required for an ‘A’ letter grade. The change of this range to the more common 90-100% for an A this school year after course selections were made was a cause for concern to some students. 

However, Ms. Roach, the math department chair, explained that the department made the change with long-term student success in mind. “We received feedback that these different grading scales and systems were extremely confusing for students,” she wrote. “[We] wanted to make the shift this year so that students could have a consistent experience across all of their classes.” 

She added that the grading scale was also adjusted in other ways that the department felt accounted for the new 90% threshold. “This year, we are giving students credit for homework, and have lots of opportunities for relearning and reassessment, so we felt that the pieces were in place for us to be able to make this shift and support students through it.”

According to Local School Council representative Megha Khemka ‘24, “After sending out the initial survey, LSC student reps met with Ms. Roach to present our findings and discuss next steps. The math department then issued an adapted version of that survey to be filed out by every student in every math class… Since students expressed needs and concerns specific to their course, each teacher will be communicating those changes to their classes individually.” For example, in AP Calculus AB the grading scale on exams was changed to better match that of the grading scale used by the College Board for the AP Calculus AB exam, meaning that more students will likely receive higher grades on exams. 

Although policy choices are first priority, Ms. Roach would like to see a broader realignment of the psychology around success in math. “I think that too often, success in math class is defined as being able to solve problems quickly and accurately. My hope is that I can help my students redefine success in math as understanding deeply, thinking divergently, asking questions, and valuing perspectives different from our own.” For better or for worse, however, as a college preparatory high school, college admissions are top of mind and many colleges use grades as a factor in admissions.

Khemka seemed to be optimistic about the feedback, though. “Throughout the process, Ms. Roach and Dr. Shabazz have been receptive to student feedback and open to change, and I’m hopeful that student needs will be addressed in the near future and throughout the year.”

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