Virginia moving to eliminate all accelerated math courses before 11th grade as part of equity-focused plan

State says framework includes 'differentiated instruction' catered to the needs of the child

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is moving to eliminate all accelerated math options prior to 11th grade, effectively keeping higher-achieving students from advancing as they usually would in the school system.

Loudoun County school board member Ian Serotkin posted about the change via Facebook on Tuesday. According to Serotkin, he learned of the change the night prior during a briefing from staff on the Virginia Mathematics Pathway Initiative (VMPI).

"[A]s currently planned, this initiative will eliminate ALL math acceleration prior to 11th grade," he said. "That is not an exaggeration, nor does there appear to be any discretion in how local districts implement this. All 6th graders will take Foundational Concepts 6. All 7th graders will take Foundational Concepts 7. All 10th graders will take Essential Concepts 10. Only in 11th and 12th grade is there any opportunity for choice in higher math courses."

His post included a chart with what appeared to be set math courses for 2022-2030.

School Board Vice Chair Atoosa Reeser similarly expressed concern on Facebook, pointing to Serotkin's post. "Please see my colleague’s post regarding a new initiative by the VDOE," she said. "The ability to accelerate math at the schools in the Algonkian district has been a well-appreciated option for many students. Please keep a lookout for an information item to be on the Board agenda in the near future, which I will share in my Weekly Work-Up."

The plan for implementing these ideas in various school districts is unclear. While Virginia has maintained that school districts have discretion, Serotkin said on Facebook that the county was restricted. In response to a question about whether the county had to adopt the framework he mentioned, Serotkin said: "I asked that exact question last night," referring to Monday's meeting. "It is a requirement from the state and we have to adopt it."

VDOE did not immediately respond when asked about Serotkin's comment. 

During a webinar posted on YouTube in December, a member of the "essential concepts" committee claimed that the new framework would exclude traditional classes like Algebra 1 and Geometry.

Committee member Ian Shenk, who focused on grades 8-10, said: "Let me be totally clear, we are talking about taking Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 – those three courses that we've known and loved ... and removing them from our high school mathematics program, replacing them with essential concepts for grade eight, nine, and 10."

Shenk also clarified that under the framework, everyone in eighth grade would take "essential concepts 8."

"So think about Grade 8, all of our students will be in a heterogeneously-grouped class and taking essential concepts 8 at the same time," he said. VDOE didn't respond when asked by Fox News about this, either.

Shenk did say that the concepts courses wouldn't eliminate algebraic ideas but rather interweave multiple strands of mathematics throughout the courses. Those included data analysis, mathematical modeling, functions and algebra, spatial reasoning and probability.

VDOE spokesperson Charles Pyle indicated to Fox News that the courses would allow for at least some variation depending on students' skill level. "Differentiated instruction means providing instruction that is catered to the learning needs of each child (appropriate levels of challenge and academic rigor)," Pyle said.

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On VDOE's website, the state features an infographic that indicates VMPI would require "concepts" courses for each grade level. It states various goals like "[i]mprove equity in mathematics learning opportunities," "[e]mpower students to be active participants in a quantitative world," and "[i]dentify K-12 mathematics pathways that support future success."

The changes were just the latest of many to prompt concern from parents in the state, which has seen in-fighting over controversial ideas surrounding equity and race.

A Loudoun parent who spoke on the condition of anonymity worried that the changes would "lower standards for all students in the name of equity."

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"These changes will have a profound impact on  students who excel in STEM related curriculum, weakening our country's ability to compete in a global marketplace for years to come," the parent told Fox News on Thursday.

Ian Prior, a Loudoun parent and former Trump administration official, similarly panned the move as a way to "stifle advancement for gifted students and set them back as they prepare for advanced mathematics in college. This is critical race theory in action and parents should be outraged."

Pyle didn't provide an immediate answer to concerns that the new model would hold kids back. It's unclear how exactly the differentiation would occur. When asked for more details, Pyle said, "Differentiated instruction is designed to provide the appropriate levels of challenge and academic rigor for each student."

The changes come as the state also considered eliminating advanced high school diplomas in an attempt to improve equity.

In a lengthy statement to Fox News, Pyle touted the changes as an avenue to "deeper learning."

"For many years, parents and the system have valued and rewarded speed via acceleration and 'covering content' rather than depth of understanding. The Virginia Mathematics Pathway Initiative shifts to a focus on and value for deeper learning through differentiated instruction on grade level that will promote student development of critical thinking, authentic application and problem solving skills," Pyle said.

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Pyle added that VMPI "aims to support increased differentiated learning opportunities within a heterogeneous learning environment, that will promote greater access to advanced mathematical learning for all students before high school graduation.

"Shifting to deeper learning through differentiated instruction, implementation of VMPI will promote student development of critical thinking, authentic application and problem solving skills.

"Offering an inclusive learning environment that engages and challenges students of varied levels of understanding and different interests will be a focus of the common mathematics pathways proposed in grades K-10 ... These pathways seek to restructure mathematics education by focusing instruction on reasoning, real world problem solving, communication and connections while shifting away from an emphasis on computation and routine problem practice."

Later in the statement, he adds: "VMPI implementation teams continue to work on addressing these considerations while moving forward to improve equity in mathematics opportunities for all students. VMPI Community meetings being offered this spring are intended to provide initial information regarding the initiative, but also be a venue in which feedback can be collected."

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It's unclear how these changes would affect each school district, but VDOE said it's currently gathering feedback regarding public concerns.

"The VMPI implementation team (VDOE, college and university staff, and school division staff) is currently working to seek feedback to help ensure local implementation practices address concerns like the shift from acceleration to deeper learning," said Pyle.