Teaching and aligning upper level mathematics classes to Michigan high school content expectations in an alternative education setting : approaches and issues
After teaching regular education secondary mathematics for seven years, I accepted a position in an alternative education high school. Over the next four years, the State of Michigan adopted new graduation requirements phasing in a mandate for all students to complete Geometry and Algebra 2 courses. Since many of my students were already struggling in Algebra 1, getting them through Geometry and Algebra 2 seemed like a daunting task. To better instruct my students, I wanted to know how other teachers in similar situations were addressing the new High School Content Expectations (HSCEs) in upper level mathematics. This study examines how thoroughly alternative education teachers in Michigan are addressing the HSCEs in their courses, what approaches they have found most effective, and what issues are preventing teachers and schools from successfully implementing the HSCEs.
Twenty-six alternative high school educators completed an online survey that included a variety of questions regarding school characteristics, curriculum alignment, implementation approaches and issues. Follow-up phone interviews were conducted with four of these participants. The survey responses were used to categorize schools as successful, unsuccessful, and neutral schools in terms of meeting the HSCEs. Responses from schools in each category were compared to identify common approaches and issues among them and to identify significant differences between school groups.
Data analysis showed that successful schools taught more of the HSCEs through a variety of instructional approaches, with an emphasis on varying the ways students learned the material. Individualized instruction was frequently mentioned by successful schools and was strikingly absent from unsuccessful school responses. The main obstacle to successful implementation of the HSCEs identified in the study was gaps in student knowledge. This caused pace of instruction to also be a significant issue. School representatives were fairly united against the belief that the Algebra 2 graduation requirement was appropriate for all alternative education students. Possible implications of these findings are discussed.