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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: October 6, 2003
Volume 39, Number 6

Arts and Sciences reaches out to teachers

By Carolyn Gonzales

The UNM College of Arts and Sciences recently hosted a session to bring high school math and English teachers together with their UNM counterparts.

Wanda Martin listens as Sanida High School Vice Principal Jean Podborny comments on secondary and h igher educational issues.Wanda Martin, associate professor of English and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Doug Earick, coordinator of K-12 outreach for the college, organized the session in response to the growing number of students who enter UNM unprepared for college level work.

“This year, more than 30 percent of the incoming freshmen have academic deficiencies,” said Martin, adding that math is the real “killer.”

More than 80 teachers and administrators attended.
“We are not holding the meeting to lay blame, but rather to share information. We need to develop a better understanding of the high school English and math curricula and state standards. We need to compare what students are expected to know by the end of the senior year to our expectations after one semester at UNM,” said Martin.

UNM shared institutional research with each school that participated.

Math 120, a pre-college level course, has 1,400 students in it this semester.

“Approximately 45 to 50 percent of those students will fail this course this semester,” said Martin.

Earick, a former Albuquerque High School teacher, is concerned that students’ aspirations exceed what they’re prepared to do. “Students who want to pursue careers in science or engineering find that they are supposed to take Math 162, calculus, their first semester. What we’re discovering is that many students need three or four semesters of preparatory math to get into the program,” he said.

High school math teachers voiced their concern about Algebra II being recognized as the only class that prepares students for Math 120, while others pointed out that Algebra II was critical for incoming freshmen. Another course designated a “killer” is Biology 121. “Students have trouble because of their inability to do algebraic problem solving,” said Earick. The students aren’t incapable, he said, they just need better preparation. Of the top 15 courses on the “killer course list,” seven are math and five others are science courses that depend on mathematical competence. Earick said that one reason some incoming freshmen have weak math skills is that they frequently satisfy high school math requirements by junior year and don’t take math as seniors. Martin and Earick also suggest that students’ math problems probably go back to middle school.

“Middle schools have the option to hire either a teacher with a K-8 certification or a secondary certification. Many of the math teachers may not be fully qualified to teach mathematics,” said Martin.

Martin points to a new three-tier teacher licensure system that will require teachers to attain more education and experience to move up the pay scale as a way to create faculties considered “highly qualified” in their academic subjects. This is required by 2006 by “No Child Left Behind.”

The English Department faces the same problem as math. “UNM offers 100 sections [classes] of English 101. When we heard that we were anticipating 3,000 incoming freshmen, we thought we would have to offer more sections. As it turns out, we didn’t. But we did have to offer more remedial English courses,” said Scott Sanders, English Department chair.

“The study of literature and writing critical literary essays that is often required of high school students doesn’t orient them to college level work. They need to read more non-fiction texts and be able to ascertain the writer’s claim, identify the structures within the text,” said Martin.

“There is a disconnect between the English curriculum at UNM and the high school curriculum. UNM’s English classes stress composition for freshmen while high school English is broader. High schools need to make writing a priority,” said Christine Beverly, Del Norte High School English teacher.

Martin said that the faculty in Arts and Sciences play a role in the equation, as well. Teachers take content area courses in Arts and Sciences. For example, a high school English teacher takes 36 hours in English to be qualified. “We need to be active in raising teachers’ content knowledge. Many teachers are asked to teach outside their areas of expertise or in areas where their knowledge is outdated,” Martin said.

UNM educates about 41 percent of New Mexico’s teachers, and these students receive most of their general education and content courses from Arts and Sciences, she said. “There is nothing in it for us to blame high school teachers. We’re implicated at every stage of the game,” she said.