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East Valley Focus

VAN NUYS : 4-Year Requirement for Math Is Urged

September 25, 1993|SUSAN BYRNES

More math plus more homework, says Henry Gradillas, equals less violence and higher test scores.

If the Birmingham High School principal's equation proves correct, his new rule--that every student entering Birmingham High complete four years of math instead of two--will have repercussions throughout the school.

"They'll be so involved in having to do homework," Gradillas said, "they won't have time to fight."

Gradillas, who was principal of Garfield High School in East Los Angeles when it gained fame in the 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver," said the requirement will unite students with a common goal of passing math, and it will raise standardized test scores.

"Peer pressure is the greatest thing," Gradillas said. "Students won't leave their houses at night if you get peer pressure working for the school."

The vast majority of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are required to complete two years of math, in accordance with state law. Birmingham's requirement--which has been implemented but not yet approved by the school district--would double the number of years a student must take math.

Birmingham has the flexibility to change its curriculum because it is run under a system of school-based management, said Joe Rao, the district's administrative coordinator for school reform. To change graduation requirements, however, the school must apply for a waiver of district rules, Rao said.

About a year and a half ago, parents, teachers and administrators voted in favor of the more rigorous math requirement.

While the state requires high school students to complete two years of any level of math to graduate, Birmingham requires ninth graders to pass math through competency level in geometry, and expects students to take math through the senior year, with exceptions allowed in very few cases, Gradillas said.

"We're going to make it difficult. We'll push where we can," he said. "But we're not trying to keep anyone from graduating."

Gradillas said the realization administrators came to at Garfield--that students were scoring very low on standardized tests not because they were from low-income families but because they simply hadn't been exposed to the math that was on the tests--was the impetus for the increased requirement.

But Ruth Chacon, 17, a senior at the school, said she is relieved that the requirement has a "grandfather" clause that excludes seniors.

"The more math you know, the better," said Chacon, who completed five semesters of math and doesn't plan to take any more. "I'm just glad I didn't have to take it."

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