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Diego Fonseca looked at the computer and took a breath. It was his final attempt at the math placement test for his first year of college. His first three tries put him in pre-calculus, a blow for a student who aced honors physics and computer science in high school.

Functions and trigonometry came easily, but the basics gave him trouble. He struggled to understand algebra, a subject he studied only during a year of remote learning in high school.

“I didn’t have a hands-on, in-person class, and the information wasn’t really there,” said Fonseca, 19, of Ashburn, Virginia, a computer science major who hoped to get into calculus. “I really struggled when it came to higher-level algebra because I just didn’t know anything.”

Now what does this really say?

How did he "ace" honors physics if he couldn't do algebra?
Algebra normally comes before trig because you need it to do trig. At least the trig that was taught when I was in school. So how did he understand trig without knowing the basics before it?
The only year of algebra was while school was out for COVID? No 8th grade? No 9th grade?

Bottom line, how did the school move him and others along and graduate them if they didn't understand the basics?

Diego Fonseca looked at the computer and took a breath. It was his final attempt at the math placement test for his first year of college. His first three tries put him in pre-calculus, a blow for a student who aced honors physics and computer science in high school.

Functions and trigonometry came easily, but the basics gave him trouble. He struggled to understand algebra, a subject he studied only during a year of remote learning in high school.

“I didn’t have a hands-on, in-person class, and the information wasn’t really there,” said Fonseca, 19, of Ashburn, Virginia, a computer science major who hoped to get into calculus. “I really struggled when it came to higher-level algebra because I just didn’t know anything.”

Now what does this really say?

How did he "ace" honors physics if he couldn't do algebra?
Algebra normally comes before trig because you need it to do trig. At least the trig that was taught when I was in school. So how did he understand trig without knowing the basics before it?
The only year of algebra was while school was out for COVID? No 8th grade? No 9th grade?

Bottom line, how did the school move him and others along and graduate them if they didn't understand the basics?

If they pass the class, in almost every school system in the US, even with a D they move on.

Should Alg I be a gatekeeper? Maybe. Maybe even yes. But it's not.

I was one of those who didn't understand Algebra when I took and didn't until I took it in college. You can guess how well I did in Alg II and Chemistry (we had Physics in 9th concurrent with Algebra).

Diego Fonseca looked at the computer and took a breath. It was his final attempt at the math placement test for his first year of college. His first three tries put him in pre-calculus, a blow for a student who aced honors physics and computer science in high school.

Functions and trigonometry came easily, but the basics gave him trouble. He struggled to understand algebra, a subject he studied only during a year of remote learning in high school.

“I didn’t have a hands-on, in-person class, and the information wasn’t really there,” said Fonseca, 19, of Ashburn, Virginia, a computer science major who hoped to get into calculus. “I really struggled when it came to higher-level algebra because I just didn’t know anything.”

Now what does this really say?

How did he "ace" honors physics if he couldn't do algebra?
Algebra normally comes before trig because you need it to do trig. At least the trig that was taught when I was in school. So how did he understand trig without knowing the basics before it?
The only year of algebra was while school was out for COVID? No 8th grade? No 9th grade?

Bottom line, how did the school move him and others along and graduate them if they didn't understand the basics?

How could this kid place into university Pre-calc if he only had one year of Algebra and doesn't feel comfortable with the material? This situation seems very strange. The only thing I can figure is that he was heavily reliant on his graphing calculator and Math apps on his cellphone where he could plug in a problem to get the solution. I saw students in my math class do this and I would imagine that tests - where cellphones and graphing calculators weren't allowed came as a rude awakening for them.

He sounds like a smart kid who would probably do well taking a math refresher class.

When I went from 8th grade to 9th grade and took algebra, I had no idea what it was or the concepts involved. I ended up getting straight A's in that class (the only math class that i got such good grades in) because the way it was explained to me it just made sense. So really the teacher gets the bulk of the credit in my case.

How could this kid place into university Pre-calc if he only had one year of Algebra and doesn't feel comfortable with the material? This situation seems very strange. The only thing I can figure is that he was heavily reliant on his graphing calculator and Math apps on his cellphone where he could plug in a problem to get the solution. I saw students in my math class do this and I would imagine that tests - where cellphones and graphing calculators weren't allowed came as a rude awakening for them.

He sounds like a smart kid who would probably do well taking a math refresher class.

He switched to a CC.
The setback would have meant spending at least one extra semester catching up on math at George Mason. In the end, Fonseca decided to start at Northern Virginia Community College. After two years, he plans to transfer to one of Virginia's public four-year universities.

If they pass the class, in almost every school system in the US, even with a D they move on.

Should Alg I be a gatekeeper? Maybe. Maybe even yes. But it's not.

I was one of those who didn't understand Algebra when I took and didn't until I took it in college. You can guess how well I did in Alg II and Chemistry (we had Physics in 9th concurrent with Algebra).

I doubt that students with many D's get into college, at least most colleges. Looking up George Mason, they are test optional, but among students who took the tests, the scores are above average. I'm not arguing whether Algebra should be a gate keeper, but that given his acceptance originally at George Mason and his lack of ability not being discovered until he took the math placement test who then placed him in a summer math remedial program.

The northern Virginia school started Math Boot Camp because of alarming numbers of students arriving with gaps in their math skills.

The school system didn't do this kid any favors moving him along without discovering (or covering up) the lack of math skills. They set him, and many other kids, up for major problems when they hit college.

I doubt that students with many D's get into college, at least most colleges. Looking up George Mason, they are test optional, but among students who took the tests, the scores are above average. I'm not arguing whether Algebra should be a gate keeper, but that given his acceptance originally at George Mason and his lack of ability not being discovered until he took the math placement test who then placed him in a summer math remedial program.

The northern Virginia school started Math Boot Camp because of alarming numbers of students arriving with gaps in their math skills.

The school system didn't do this kid any favors moving him along without discovering (or covering up) the lack of math skills. They set him, and many other kids, up for major problems when they hit college.

No, but your question wasn't really about that but how the school could pass him along without knowing the basics.

He switched to a CC.
The setback would have meant spending at least one extra semester catching up on math at George Mason. In the end, Fonseca decided to start at Northern Virginia Community College. After two years, he plans to transfer to one of Virginia's public four-year universities.

That was a smart move on his part. If the kid is struggling in basic math he simply needs to rebuild from the ground up. That might sound daunting but really it's the only way.

How are these kids doing well enough on the SAT/ACT to place into STEM programs at these colleges?

Simple, they ARE NOT.

They're blaming all of this on covid but in reality there are also a lot of other initiatives that have gone hand in hand with claims that the SAT and ACT are unfair, biased or both and should not be used or used much.

The result is highly skewed drop rates from STEM programs at Universities.

How could this kid place into university Pre-calc if he only had one year of Algebra and doesn't feel comfortable with the material? This situation seems very strange. The only thing I can figure is that he was heavily reliant on his graphing calculator and Math apps on his cellphone where he could plug in a problem to get the solution. I saw students in my math class do this and I would imagine that tests - where cellphones and graphing calculators weren't allowed came as a rude awakening for them.

He sounds like a smart kid who would probably do well taking a math refresher class.

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