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Integrated math at Northwood

Sometimes it feels like the justification for reorganizing Northwood’s math program just doesn’t add up. While Common Core may be the bane of many a student’s existence, the Integrated Math curriculum proves that there is always more than what meets the eye with its continuity and real world applications.

Historically, American high school students have had lackluster mathematical performances in comparison to countries around the world, ranking an unimpressive 38th out of 71 nations in 2015, according to The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which conducts one of the largest cross-national tests every three years. This number has stayed relatively consistent for the past few decades.

With that in mind, the creators of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) sought to prepare students for the rapidly changing 21st century, as simply memorizing facts, dates and formulas was no longer adequate. A notable part of the CCSS was the introduction of same Integrated Math program used in high-performing countries such as Singapore. This new method of teaching mathematics is becoming increasingly prevalent in high schools, replacing the traditional “pathway” of Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Calculus and so on.

Instead, Integrated Math takes preexisting standards and packages them into three neat courses: Math I, Math II and Math III. The different courses of “traditional” math are intertwined, and as a result, allow students to better understand the relationship between different, but interrelated concepts. For example, while “traditional” math courses place geometry in between Algebra I and II, with the integrated structure, concepts from geometry are interspersed evenly throughout the entire curriculum. This not only provides continuity between courses, but also ensures that students don’t forget instruction simply because they have to take a year of geometry before resuming algebra.

While many traditional students will say they couldn’t care less about the rate at which Dr. Deadman’s body cools off, Common Core Integrated Math allows students to apply linear equations to real world scenarios, no matter how hypothetical they are. In fact, Integrated Math strives to show students the uses of formulas and calculations beyond the classroom, and how math is practically applied to a person’s daily life, whether they become a STEM major or not. This is a drastic contrast to merely memorizing formulas and plugging and chugging.

But by no means is the Integrated Math program perfect. A common critique from opponents is that Integrated Math focuses too heavily on standardized testing. Institutions such as the The California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education (CARE-ED), a coalition of public and private universities in California, object to the standards on the basis of the negative psychological effects they have on students. Students’ test scores, they argue, become the only metric of success, and when their scores aren’t satisfactory, students are more likely to internalize negative labels of inadequacy. This in turn can do major damage to students’ self-esteem.

However, self-image problems are not directly caused by Common Core itself. The overall academic climate in our schools today focuses too heavily on standardized tests as benchmarks, regardless of course content. Students define themselves by test scores because of the undue pressure created by academic expectations from a variety of sources, including parents, teachers, peers, colleges and ultimately themselves. Even a world without Common Core or a similar system would still be riddled with student stress and insecurity.

In fact, if schools are given adequate time to acclimate to its standards, Common Core could become a tool to combat this negative environment. With its focus on real-life applications, Integrated Math is poised to change the way students perceive themselves in relation to test scores and academic performance in general. It is everyone’s job to help foster a culture of supportiveness for the mental health and learning of all students.