Westhampton Beach has no plans to dismiss math policy

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Tim Murphy is worried about his son, an eighth-grader attending Westhampton Beach Middle School, who is now taking a mandated accelerated math course.

Mr. Murphy explained that while the program benefits some students, others are struggling with the increased workload that comes with taking the course, which is usually administered to ninth-graders.

“This is doing collateral damage to these kids,” he said.

In spite of the concerns raised by Mr. Murphy and other parents attending a public forum last week, Westhampton Beach School District officials defended their new policy mandating that all of the middle school’s eighth-graders complete the accelerated course.

“We truly believe we are offering the best we can,” Westhampton Beach Assistant Superintendent Michael Radday told the three dozen parents attending the meeting, held last Wednesday, January 21, in the school’s music suite.

He added that the district has no immediate plans to make the accelerated math course optional. “We may have to agree to disagree,” Mr. Radday said.

Westhampton Beach Superintendent Lynn Schwartz did not attend the forum.

All of the district’s 190 eight-graders must now take an accelerated algebra course, in anticipation of taking in June the integrated algebra Regents exam, a statewide test usually administered to ninth-graders. The new math program, which is not mandated by the New York State Education Department, was adopted by the Westhampton Beach School Board and instituted for the first time at the beginning of the 2007-08 school year. Last year, members of the class of 2013, who were seventh-graders at the time, took a pre-algebra class in preparation of taking the accelerated math course as eighth-graders.

Opinions on the new school policy were mixed during last week’s meeting.

Mr. Murphy maintained that each student should still have the option not to take the accelerated course. “This is hurting him,” he said of his son. “It should not be mandatory.”

Quogue resident Debra Vasso, whose child is also an eighth-grader at Westhampton Beach, defended the program. Ms. Vasso, who is an assistant superintendent in the Longwood School District, stated that while the program would be challenging to some children, it would benefit all students in the long run. “You’ve got to start somewhere,” she said.

Mr. Radday and other school administrators explained that the program would give students an advantage academically, allowing them to take advanced math courses and earn college credit while attending high school.

Additionally, Mr. Radday explained that the middle school has offered extra help to those students who are struggling with the course, noting that they have the option of working with tutors after school.

“You don’t become a successful person … if you don’t have challenges in your life,” Mr. Radday said.

Barbara Rasmussen, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in the district, stated that the accelerated math course is hurting students by preventing them from taking part in extracurricular activities. “They’re missing the play,” she said. “They’re losing their confidence.”

On Monday, Mr. Radday said School Board members would continue to monitor the program and could possibly make adjustments in the future. “We are continually evaluating the program,” he said.

He also encouraged parents who opposed the accelerated math course to give the program more time before making a final decision on the issue. “It’s important to have an open mind and give the program a chance to work,” he added.

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