The Boise School District will do away with basic math classes in junior high school beginning in 2013-2014 and replace those with accelerated math, which takes a more rigorous approach to instruction.
Math classes will focus on problem solving and critical thinking rather than fact retention. It is part of the district's adoption of the Idaho Core Standards, a version of Common Core State Standards working their way through 45 states.
Boise will add seven teachers this fall to its staff of 117 secondary math instructors and spread them throughout the district's junior high and high schools, providing time for extra instruction for students whose math skills aren't keeping pace with the new demands.
New math teachers will cost the district $336,000 a year. State dollars, money from increasing district enrollment and a supplemental levy approved by voters in March 2012 will cover the cost, said Superintendent Don Coberly.
"This whole math initiative comes out of the board of trustees' vision, which is that every child should be prepared for college (or) a career," Coberly said.
Boise schools will start what it calls math "seminars" in junior high and high schools this fall. Math classes will be added to students' schedules to catch them up on gaps, even while the students take their grade-level math classes.
Seminars also will be open to students who are doing well in accelerated classes but are looking for extra help or encouragement.
Seminars will go through high school and be available to students from a variety of classes, including college-level Advanced Placement courses.
"Whether you struggle with math or you're kind of that average student or you're a really high-performing math student, the rigor will increase," said Ann Farris, a district area director working on Core Curriculum.
THE READINESS GAP
District officials aren't sure how many students will be in the additional math classes. About half the students going into junior high have elected to take accelerated math in the past.
Educators estimate that about 20 percent of the remaining students could need additional help.
The Boise School District has experimented with the additional class at West Junior High School, which offered a ninth-period class where students could go for help in a variety of subjects.
"What they found is the kids are self-selecting math," said Stacey Roth, administrator of student programs who is focusing on Common Core.
Even kids in accelerated programs were seeking additional help on math, she said.
The Boise district uses the Scholastic Aptitude Test, required for all Idaho juniors, as a measure of students' college readiness.
In 2012, the first year the exam was given statewide, 47 percent of district juniors demonstrated college readiness in math on the SAT. Though that was high compared to many districts, it showed that more work needs to be done, said Coberly.
That same year, 60 percent of the district's graduates went to college - meaning that the "readiness gap" was 13 percent.
BUILDING BETTER UNDERSTANDING
Students in a Boise summer school accelerated geometry class are getting an early dose of how Common Core's in-depth approach is going to stretch their brains.
Eighth-grader Jusung Lee worked with a couple of classmates trying to discern how to place a line parallel with a dot.
Instructor Teyah Gaipl came by, offered a couple of thoughts and sympathized that it was a difficult task - then moved to another table.
What she didn't do was show them how to do it, or hover with an answer.
As the students work with each other, "they build better understanding," said Gaipl, who teaches geometry at Rocky Mountain High School in the Meridian School District during the regular school year.
"I think they learn more from each other than me," Gaipl said.
In the end, the answer eluded the students.
"It was challenging," Lee said.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts