IMP Math in Small Schools at BHS
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IMP Math in Small Schools at BHS
This topic was hotly debated a few years ago, but I feel that it's time for an update.
Our child has ADHD and attendant problems, including social difficulties working in
groups. When her 504 Plan was set up at King this past spring, the primary discussion
point on the part of her English and Science teachers was her inability to function in
groups. However, math has always been her best subject, and she had no problems there,
always bringing home top grades, and even deciding to become a math teacher when she
This year she's a freshman in AMPS (Academy of Medicine and Public Service), and AMPS
-- like most other small schools at BHS -- uses the Interactive Mathematics Program.
Overnight, math has gone from being her best subject to her worst. Now she's earning Ds
and Fs (while getting As and Bs in all other subjects).
I did some research, and a few years ago some parents published VERY HEATED comments
about IMP math on this very forum. And just now I discovered a blistering review
(commissioned by the BUSD) by Prof. Harry Wu at Cal.
Here are some highlights of Wu's report:
[S]everal aspects of the IMP curriculum are disturbing...
(a) The almost total absence of drills. To master a language, certain skills must be
performed correctly without conscious thought, i.e., must become automatic, and this is
the purpose of having drills.
(b) The inability of the IMP text to follow through in its presentation of new ideas.
(c) The misrepresentation of mathematics through the abuse of â€œopen-ended problemsâ€
and the de-emphasis of correct answers.
(d) The presentation of mathematical puzzles (also known as brain-teasers) as
(e) The refusal to acknowledge that mathematics could be inspired by abstract
(f) Insufficient emphasis on precision.
(g) Over-emphasis on group activities.
If a camel is the horse designed by a committee [writes Prof. Wu], what then is the
kind of mathematics learned exclusively from compulsory group activities? Is it really
necessary to elevate mathematical gregariousness to a virtue?
I now realize that we must get our child into a ''regular'' math class PRONTO. Yet her
adviser tells me that absent an IEP (which she's never had), she'd have to fail math
for two years, or nearly, before being allowed to take a core course outside the AMPS
I'm unwilling to let that happen. Do you have any advice for how I might go about it?
I'm willing to go to the District, if need be.
Thanks very much in advance.
Your concerns about IMP math are all valid, including everything you cite from the Dr. Wu
analysis of IMP. There is one thing that you may not have taken into account, though -- and
which Dr. Wu would not have known about when he wrote his excellent article. This concerns
how ill-suited AMPS math classes are to the group ''problem solving'' which IMP is based
on. Group problem solving, as I am sure you know, involves breaking up into groups to pool
knowledge, strategies, and skills.
The most recent data I have seen shows that only 2% of AMPS students are proficient in
math. This means that in any given AMPS math class, there is likely to be at most one child
who is at grade level. The rest will be below -- and some might be as much as 8 years below
grade level. (Some cannot do column addition, for example.)
Picture 30 teenagers, 29 of whom are not proficient in math, trying to solve high school
level math problems in groups. Factor in the high level of drug use of AMPS students during
the school day. A disproportionately high number of AMPS students also have reading and
writing difficulties, so that too will come into play when they attempt to read word
problems and write down the answers. Add in a very significant amount of classroom noise
(shouting, swearing, rap music being played on speakers).
Imagine, if you can bear to, how much a child with ADHD (or any child) would learn under
those circumstances. It is impossible to conceive of an arrangement where a child with
ADHD would learn less math.
Dr. Wu's criticisms of IMP pale beside the problem of the AMPS learning environment. If IMP
were given to a class of quiet, focused, high-achieving math students (proficient in
reading as well as math), despite the short-comings of IMP, they would still learn a lot --
though as Dr. Wu points out, they would not be adequately prepared for any kind of college
path involving math. But IMP is the worst possible choice for a group of students with a 2%
math proficiency rate, many of whom have substance issues.
It is absurd for the school to suggest waiting for your child to fail for two years before
a change can be made. Then where will she be? Further behind than she was when she left
King, her math confidence destroyed, and certainly not ready for 11th grade AC math.
Only the principal can switch your child to AC math and it would take him about 2 minutes
to do it. Do not waste your time running in circles, from counsellors to superintendent to
vice principals to school board and back again. They do not have the authority to make the
change. Insist that the principal allow your child into regular math and don't give up.
Please keep us posted.
Our family has never been involved in BHS, but I wanted to respond in case you don't get
I have had to advocate a lot for my foster son, a teenager, and I can't tell you how many
times I've been told something can't be done that absolutely CAN be done, or the times that
I have been misled by partial answers. What has worked for me is to ask open-ended
questions along the lines of ''What would you do in my situation?'' or ''What is your best
solution for this problem?'' Sometimes people will surprise you.
And for those many times they don't, keep asking around and telling people what your child
needs. Posting here was a good idea. Talk to the other counselors, the principal, the
school district, the school psychologist. Do some online reading about rights and 504s. I
would also use that 504 as leverage. Schools tend to discourage you from asking for testing
because they have to pay for it, so you could ''threaten'' to request further testing and
further need for accommodations if they don't agree to this simple step now. If you request
testing in writing, the school must comply by law. Just make it clear that you'll be doing
that immediately if your child doesn't get switched into an appropriate class.
It took me 25 phone calls to find a way to get braces paid for by the county for my foster
son. You just have to keep pushing and keep asking questions. During my 25th phone call,
someone mentioned that there's a person who writes checks for braces. I reported this to my
social worker and in two weeks there was a check ready for our local orthodontist. NO ONE
mentioned this along the way, yet somehow the social worker knew what to do when I told her
what I'd learned. Persistence pays off, and I think your request sounds logical and
don't be stonewalled
We stayed away from all of the ''small schools'' at BHS precisely because of the
inadequacies of the IMP math curriculum. If you want your daughter out of IMP math,
get her out of AMPS and into AC for next year. And be prepared for her to begin high
school math again where she left off in 8th grade. You can try barking up many trees,
but BHS and the District are pros at saying No to parents. You know - 'if we make an
exception for your child then EVERYONE will want an exception too.' And they are right
- everyone will. Because the IMP curriculum is a travesty. Notice that it is not
foisted on the ''more academic'' (and whiter) IB and AC programs. If you want to save
your daughter from IMP get her into the lottery for AC for 10th grade and have a good
reason other than IMP why she needs to switch to AC.
Best of luck.
Standard math Mom
If BHS will not allow your child to transfer out of IMP Math this year, I
suggest you create a free account for your daughter on the Khan Academy online.
Have her do a few minutes of math every day. The Khan Academy has excellent
problem sets with instant feedback on whether you are doing it right. If your
child gets stuck, she can click on the short video of Khan explaining the
concept. Your child can maintain and deepen her algebra skills and learn new
geometry skills so she does not fall behind while in IMP. Khan has a very
different approach from IMP. It is mastery-based, not discussion-based, and
gives immediate and accurate feedback (unlike the feedback of a confused peer).
If there is any gap in her math background (say she never understood factoring,
or was confused about fractions), she can click on the module on that and master
I recommend setting a very manageable amount she needs to do every day -- like
10 minutes -- even if she has other homework. Just build it in like brushing
teeth. She may resist because who on earth wants extra work the teacher did not
assign ... but if you can tie it to a reward (or wifi use!) and somehow get her
to do it, she will be in a completely different place at the start of 10th
If anyone in your household likes math, she could do it with that person ...
whatever will make it the most fun.
I hope this helps!
And BHS does let some kids out of IMP Math even though they say they don't. What
might be REALLY hard is getting out of AMPS. Your zip code will be a huge factor
in whether your daughter will ever be allowed out. If your zip code is, for
example, 94708 or 94707 your child may be stuck with AMPS for four years. If
your zip code is 94710 your child will likely be allowed out at the next
The small school concept at BHS is admirable and provides substantial
benefits to students by offering a study program that focuses on
individual students' interest, skills and goals. However, the recent
decision to rescind previously available options in math instruction
for small school students calls for reconsideration.
A student assigned to one of the small schools are also assigned to a
single option for the study of mathematics, regardless of individual
interest, abilities or aspirations. Thus, my daughter, who desires to
study Geometry, is placed in the only option available. IMP,
(Interactive Math Program).
My wife and I believe that the IMP program is not an appropriate
course of instruction for our daughter needs, as it doesn't offer a
complete instruction in mathematical techniques and falls short of
logically interrelating core mathematical concepts.
We fail to understand why certain doors of opportunity are closed to
a significant number of students, based solely on small school
affiliation. As currently implemented, the small schools rigidly deny
reasonable and available educational opportunities to a select group
of students. IMP should not be a mandatory course of study or the
only available option for every individual student within the small
schools. A rigid inflexible system that unreasonably limits available
educational options may risk diminishing a students' future interest
and opportunities in education and life. Does anyone agree?
I think Math will be the hot topic of BHS 2009-2010, along with overcrowding.
BHS has become more intractable this year. It seems the only way to get anything done is
to file an official complaint. There is an unreasonableness about the math program that is
perplexing. IMP math is so difficult for so many kids, and the test scores go down almost
every year. You have to wonder why there are no evaluations being done of the program.
Many parents - including disadvantaged parents of color - in the small schools are
distraught about this but there is a zealous, almost fanatical defense of IMP math that
doesn't fit reality. If it is good for some kids, fine. But why does it have to be such a hard
line matter? I have heard teachers say that it will work when the stronger kids can bring
along the weaker students. But even if this theoretical situation is true, is it fair to banish
those stronger students to a life of mediocre math skills? There is a desperate situation at
BHS in math (one small school has a 2% proficiency rate) but no one is trying to figure out
if IMP could be part of the CAUSE of the problem, and it might be. Look at the text book -
it is all words. If a student isn't very literary or conceptual, it is really hard. Some kids
numbers more easily than words - what about them?
BHS mom who was warned to stay away from IMP and is very glad
The community needs to pressure the Berkeley School Board to
force Berkeley High to give parents a choice in their childrens' math
program. Only 1% of California students are enrolled in IMP math
courses. The proficiency rates of BHS students in IMP math have been
in steep decline for years and have now hit zero for IMP 3. It would
be helpful if the BHS administration, their expensive consultants at
BayCES, and the School Board would enumerate the documented reasons
for continuing with IMP math. There is very little evidence that it
helps struggling students. At the very least those who don't want
their children in this program should be able to place their children
in the regular math program. And let's hope that the new
'engineering' small school will not force students into IMP math,
since there is no way one can become an engineer without a mastery of
differential equations, the Fourier series and Laplace
transformations, skills that are most definitely not addressed in IMP
If our school district wants to sell us on IMP math, then show us
the numbers (hopefully without parents having to file public record
act requests, which is not exactly the way to go if an institution
aims for transparency). Many of us have been told for years by BHS
officials that IMP students do just as well as regular math students
in AP Calculus. Okay then. Show us the AP Calculus test scores of IMP
& regular math students. Show us the percentage of IMP students who
take AP Calculus compared to the percentage of regular math students
who take AP Calculus. Show us the SAT math scores of IMP & regular
math students. Certainly the most recent CST scores demonstrate that
IMP math does not give students the foundation they need for future
success in any type of scientific field. To suggest otherwise is cruel.
My son is a sophomore in Arts and Humanities Academy at BHS--so he was
able to take regular geometry last year, and algebra 2 this year.
AHA's math flexibility (last year) was a primary reason we chose AHA.
I can understand the serious frustration of students and parents when
official printed statements (that there will be flexible math) are not
honored by BHS after students have made their school choice based on
that understanding. I think it is critical that BHS consider the
implications of lack of trust from the parent and student community.
As BHS plans a likely switch to a trimester schedule, it will be even
more important that there be responsive flexibility in scheduling so
that students can take the right math course for their needs--AP, IMP,
regular, extended time--whatever is appropriate for that student.
However, I think it is important to note that I and my son have been
happy to very happy with AHA teachers for English, Humanities,Science,
and arts both last year and this year-- he came to BHS from a small
private middle school and I think his teachers in AHA have been
concerned, gotten to know him, encouraged him-- so we have been very
happy with the small school environment.
So my preference is to push for flexibility in math and language
classes --both for the small schools, and even more with the likely
move to trimester scheduling--but also to recognize very positive
elements of the small schools...
Do the right thing BHS!
My daughter is an AHA freshman and choose IMP Math. We are only 1,5
months into the school year, but she is happy about her choice and
feels that the IMP approach to learning suits her better. I think it
is fabulous to have the choice between two math learning approaches
and feel that Berkeley High is supporting the diversity of learners in
our community. Unfortunately the option of choice seems to be
disappearing from the small schools.
When my daughter and other 8th graders signed up for Berkeley High ,
the AHA brochure stated that AHA students take Math in the big school
and have a choice which program to take. Apparently they changed their
policy and now kids don't have the choice anymore. I can understand
that some students and parents must be feeling cheated after such a
bait and switch maneuver. It seems most unprofessional to change the
plan in mid air.
Remember when Howard Gardner came out with his idea of the 8
intelligences? My kid is happy with IMP, because she is a creative,
free form thinker. But now we are putting kids who excel in a more
structured and linear way of thinking into the dog house. We need to
support both ways! To me the discussion is not about which math is
better, but why can't we continue to have both. I hope that Berkeley
High will see that it is important to honor the different learning
models and by that give all our kids a chance to excel.
I am so sorry to hear this is still happening at BHS. My kids were
at BHS 10 years ago, before the advent of BHS-wide small schools.
They were both placed in the IMP-like math classes, then called
CPM. It was totally anathema to their learning styles. They
could not learn math with group discussion, peer-supported learning,
and math textbooks that consisted of stories, cartoons, and
recently invented terminology. I have an MS in engineering
myself, so I have a decent math background, but I actually could
not help them with homework because their textbooks matched
little I had ever been taught. As they began to turn off to math
and fail their CPM math classes, I begged and pleaded with BHS to
please allow them to learn math in the traditional classes that were
available to other kids at BHS. I signed one kid up for traditional math
over the summer, he worked hard and did well, so to me it seemed so
obvious that my kids could succeed at math if it were just taught in a
different way from CPM. But when I brought this up with their teachers
and the head of the math dept, I was met with unyielding refusal along
with explanations about the benefits of CPM. So they suffered through
years of CPM, failing or barely passing. "Some kids just don't like
math," the math dept. head told me. Maybe my kids would have hated
math anyway and would never have wanted to study sciences or
engineering in college anyway. But we'll never know - it was all
decided for them as 14-year-old freshmen. In retrospect, I wish I had
taken them out of the BHS math classes altogether, if for no other
reason than to preserve the openness to math they started HS with.
Maybe they could have taken online classes, or summer classes, or
community college classes. I feel really guilty when I think about
this. Math is so important for the careers that are going to save us
from climate change and disease and malnutrition! We need our kids
to have a good solid background in high school math so every one of
them can at least have the *option* of a science career, even if they
decide later they don't want that. I thank you for speaking out about
this, but do whatever you need to do for your own child, too. Let's
lose as few future scientists as we can!
Mom of 20 somethings
Re: Entering freshman confused about AC vs. international program
Small schools are NOT homogeneous despite the commentary
so far in this newsletter and the academics vary according
to the teacher as in ANY BHS school program. In his small
school, my son took honors option for IMP Math (next year
there will be a formally UC-recognized Honors IMP course
for 9th graders, had a 12 page research paper in history
for NINTH grade, all of his English/History teachers also
offered an honors option (more, deeper work assignments)
and he took AP English and AP Calculus as a senior [... ]
(Editor) see above link for the rest of this posting.
I'd like to correct a statement by Karen H about IMP2 Honors. She
said, ''Next year there will be a formally UC-recognized Honors IMP
course for ninth graders.'' This is incorrect.
I went to the UC website:
It clearly states:
''3. Honors level courses must be designed for 11th and 12th graders
who have already completed foundation work in the subject area. Ninth
and tenth grade level high school courses that schools might designate
as ''honors'' do not meet the UC honors level requirement and therefore
are not granted special ''honors'' credit by the University.''
''c. Mathematics. UC-approved honors level courses in mathematics must
be at the mathematical analysis (pre-calculus) level or above.''
There is lots more information on that page.
Also, last year about 140 or 150 BHS students took the IMP 2 standards
test and only 5 tested proficient or above. In 8th grade, our family
was strongly warned to stay away from IMP because for many kids, it
makes learning math harder. I don't know if BHS or the Superintendent
is mandating an evaluation of the IMP program or not but it sure looks
like they should. The regular honors math program at BHS is pretty
strong even if it isn't (and cannot be) a UC-recognized Honors class.
Every kid I know who is in it says it is very challenging.
Parent of a sophomore at BHS
The School Board adopted an honors IMP2 class at a recent meeting.
The class IS UC eligible as an a-g class. By the way, the
Integrated Math standardized test is based upon a different
curriculum than BHS's Interactive Math Program which makes it
difficult to use the results of that test to measure IMP student's
progress (this is according to a presentation made at the Board).
The challenge (and the excitement) for students is that IMP is based
upon the WHY of the math. Its project (ie. problem solving) based
rather than formula based math learning. Its a way of approaching
math that really works for many students - those that are more
conceptual and/or intuitive in their thought processes (for example,
the type of student that ''did better'' in Geometry rather than
Algebra), the student that learns more ''hands on'', and the student
that is looking to extend/deepen their understanding of math as a
tool (interested in being an engineer or scientist). This is very
different than the math that most of us grew up with and may feel
more comfortable with.
A recent post about small schools states that their IMP math program
''is based upon the WHY of the math.'' The post explains that this math
program is project based rather than formula based math learning, and
proposes that this will prepare students for careers in engineering or
science. It is extremely unlikely that a high school student who fails
to achieve a score of proficient or above in the California
standardized math test will be able to pass the Professional
Engineering examination. An aspiring engineer must pass this test in
order to practice engineering in California. The Professional
Engineering examination is not based upon the WHY of the math. Once
again the California Standardized Test (CST) math performance of the small schools at Berkeley High
is far below the rest of the school. In 2008, the percentage of small
school students who scored proficient or above on CST math ranged from
2%-20%. The remainder of the school population that scored proficient
or above on CST math was 31-32%. This data was presented to the
School Board at their 1/14/09 meeting.
Regarding the message from Karen H. about IMP math at Berkeley High.
It may ''really work'' for lots of students, but what about the kids
it doesn't work for? My two bright boys, now in their 20's, were not
allowed to take traditional math courses at BHS because of their
sub-par performance on the middle school exam. So they flunked their
way through all their project-based ''collaborative'' math classes
because the group learning and ''why'' approach did not work for them.
These classes were pitched to the ''kids who don't like math'' as
the math dept. head told me, and my kids definitely did learn to
not like math. I learned a lot about pleading with math dept. heads,
and paying for private tutors and summer catch-up classes. In the end,
the son who went to college was unprepared for anything except for the
easiest popular culture type classes. The other son did not finish
high school. I'm a mom with an advanced engineering degree, married
to an engineer, and I expected my kids to at least have the option
of choosing the sciences or engineering in college, but that was
all decided for them by freshman year in high school.
Hi--our 8th grader at a small independent school is heading
for Berkeley High next fall-- we've really appreciated the
thoughtful posts and discussions on BPN, and think a small
school would be good to ease our son's transition (plus he's
not the self-directed academic powerhouse type...)--We're
being told (by two sources at the school)that kids in CAS or
CPA can ONLY take IMP math--is that really true? Is there
any way around it? Our son wouldn't be aiming at honors
math, but he's done ok in algebra, and I hear worrisome
things about IMP math and SAT's etc....so thought regular
geometry would be a better placement...?
Would really appreciate input--plus any recent updates on
small schools--eg impact of change in CAS director, update
on AHA classroom discipline issues (report from friend on
problems from freshman 2006 year) etc etc. It is so hard to
get an accurate sense from outside the system...
optimistic but concerned mom
Yes, in order to focus, CP Academy and CAS are only teaching
IMP (with a greater success than when they were teaching
both!). My senior took the IMP sequence and is now in AP
Calculus where he received an A this semester. The main
difference between IMP Math and ''traditional'' math is that
IMP is problem-based and integrates various types of math
such as algebra and trigonometry as part of the solution to
the problem. So for example, the ''problem'' (this would be an
entire unit) may be planning for a successful rocket launch
to the moon and the students are asked to figure out the
various variables and then ''solve the problem'' by
determining route (trigonometry), speed, fuel requirements
(algebra),etc. In order to solve the problem, the students
learn the math needed so its really an applied math type of
course (and there is usually more than one way to solve a
problem so understanding the concepts behind the math is
very important). Some students may need some practice with
how the SAT presents problems (not as experienced with drill
type work) BUT this isn't a CONTENT question, merely a test
taking issue. AND for students that aren't as math oriented
as others, the conceptual way that IMP approaches math can
make math more interesting and relevant - and for those that
ARE strong in math it is great preparation for engineering,
applied physics, etc. If you have any questions, you really
should talk to Matt Bremer. He is an IMP Math teacher at
BHS and one of the primary folks that developed the
nationwide IMP curriculum. There is ALOT of misinformation
about IMP. I've heard parents say that IMP isn't college
math (yes, it fulfills the CSU/UC requirement), doesn't lead
to higher math (students completing IMP 4 are ready to take
regular or AP Calculus), etc. NONE of these widely held
beliefs are true and unfortunately some of the BHS and
middle school counselors are perpetuating these myths.
Quite frankly, IMP is how math SHOULD be taught (though I do
believe that IMP requires really good teachers to really
work - but as a group, the IMP teachers ARE very good).
Both CAS and CPA offer only IMP math. If your child is in CAS or CPA, this is
not something you can get around. There is a lot of research on IMP.
The website www.mathimp.org is a great resource and also includes sections
designed to inform parents and students. There is no evidence that IMP
students do worse than other students on the SAT.
I can speak for CP Academy and say that we have found that high skilled
students are challenged by the IMP curriculum, because of it's heavy
reliance on real world problem solving which introduces math topics as they are
needed. We have also found that the success rate for all students in
math has been remarkable with the IMP curriculum, and that students who
start out BHS behind in math skills perform far better with the IMP
curriculum than they did when we offered the CPM sequence of Geometry, Algebra II and
Math Analysis. Because we start our all our freshmen at the IMP2
level, all of our students have the ability to take four years of math in our
program, including AP calculus, if they so desire.
In answer to the questions raised about CAS... You're
right... all CAS and CPA kids do take IMP. In fact. SSJE
kids do, too. As of now, AHA students take math in the big
school. We're proud of the education kids get in IMP; their
standardized test scores are shown to be equal or higher
than test scores earned by kids who take traditional math
classes and the IMP approach to teaching math, which
emphasize collaboration between students and real-world
problem solving, aligns nicely with CAS's philosophy toward
education overall. (I encourage you to visit the IMP website
to learn more: http://www.mathimp.org/)
Finally, I would
love to communicate directly with members of the community
about CAS. We are proud of our small school and I'd be happy
to share an overview of some of the exciting things that
we're doing and to answer questions. If you'd like to learn
more, please drop me an email. Sincerely, Phil Halpern CAS
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