A spin off to Fulghum’s book (below) is that by high school, students have been presented with almost all of the math they need if they are not pursuing college.

High school math, aside from some exceptions, is largely designed to prepare students for college and subsequent careers.

If your student is entering high school and does not have a postsecondary goal of college (2 or 4 year) then you can turn the main focus of the math education to topics covered before high school.

Some of the topics in geometry and statistics are applicable to real life and most of those would have been covered in the Statistics or Geometry and Measurement domains from previous grades. There are topics unique to high school math that are prerequisites for some vocations, e.g., trigonometry for surveying. Some applications of the high school math address real life, but the focus is on the math and not the applications.

The image below shows a breakdown of a sample of topics for life skills math and for two vocations. Here is a link to a PDF of the document shown above. You can see the math topics. Here are the links to the pages for the plumbing topics and the welding topics.

Related to this value of college education for certain job sectors. The director of the Office of Higher Education in Connecticut, Tim Larson, stated that many companies have proprietary software, programs, or procedures that they will teach new hires. The take away from this is that much of the actionable knowledge needed would not be covered in college. Many of the skills they are looking for are not academic in nature. The Wall Street Journal published two articles that speak to the change in requirements for some jobs, in which a college degree is no longer a requirement (“Rethinking the Need for College Degrees“, “Is this the end of college as we know it?”)

A college education (or at least the degree) provides incredible opportunities, but it is not needed for many students.

The images above show a postsecondary planning documented to help a family prepare for a postsecondary transition planning meeting with the IEP team. This student was likely to be placed in a day program and live in group housing. Below are some images showing a focus on employment (no specialized education or college) and on education.

In the video, Charles Barkley has made great progress getting to Annapolis for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Problem is, the tournament was in Indianapolis.

For obvious reasons, in special education we frequently discuss and recognize progress. As in the commercial, there can be a lot of progress, but in what direction? Is it moving the student towards postsecondary goals the family has established and will the student be prepared for postsecondary life?

When I work with IEP teams or with families, I look to establish the postsecondary goals and evaluate progress accordingly. Often, I am called in to help when a student is in middle or high school and is years behind in math. With only a few years remaining with support through IDEA, it is crucial that progress be evaluated in terms of a long range plan that gets the student ready for postsecondary life and the student is ready BEFORE leaving high school (or a transition program). In other words, the student arrives in Indianapolis and is there before the game starts.

In working with students with special needs on math programming and services, a common and important issue is that the student is behind and there is a tension between math intervention to fill gaps and addressing ongoing grade level content.

Unpacking the situation

There is no single grade level for math, as is the case for reading. Math progression is more like a web, not a line. For example, if a student can do 5th grade geometry but only 3rd grade level fractions, do we average out the grade level math to be 4th grade? (No.) Do we identify the student as working at a 3rd grade level? (No.) 5th grade level? (No.)

Like a suitcase, there is a capacity to the daily time a student has for school services. I often encounter situations in which the services recommended involve the student working on grade level content and catching up on the gaps during support time. If the student has only been learning 75% of the math content each year, he or she needs that support time to help learn the new content to get closer to 100%. There is too much being stuffed into the suitcase. Something has to give.

The focus of the services and programming often shifts away from post-secondary plans, with a focus on the short term. Like the situation facing the man in the image below, there are long term implications.

Recommendations

There are two recommendations I make in regards to addressing the gaps, without overstuffng the suitcase.

The IRIS Center is part of the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.

Use triage to shift focus to the priority topics. For example, the parents of a student in 7th grade but working on math from lower grade levels wanted to pursue a math track that would allow the student to go to community college. I mapped out a long range plan (image below) that focuses on algebra as that is the type of math most likely encountered in a math requirement. Here is another plan which was to prepare a student to possibly work in a field related to cars.

If you are reading this post, it is likely that you have a student or you teach students who struggle with math. Here are suggestions to help your students prepare for the math they will encounter in the fall.

Review the IEP math objectives. Are they written to cover the entire curriculum or just a couple isolated math topics?

Ask for examples of what mastery looks like for the IEP math objectives. You may not understand the math but you can compare your student’s work with an example of mastery to get some idea if your student is showing some level of mastery.

Ask the teachers for practice on prerequisite skills for the math your student will encounter in the fall. Hire a college student or a tutor to work through these skills or use online resources.

Get a math evaluation to see where you student is in terms of the curriculum.

Many students are behind in their math education. This has long term implications. The sooner you can address the gaps, the better chance your student has for post-secondary success or competence with math.