It's good policy to push students to their potential, and the new Pinellas plan for assigning middle school math classes should do just that. But the challenge for superintendent Michael Grego will be ensuring that students are not set up to fail but get the support needed to succeed or a quick reassignment if they are in the wrong class.
Grego wants to bring some consistency and higher expectations to what has been a more subjective system. Middle school guidance counselors are burdened with too much paperwork and too little time to deal with every student's placement effectively. Enter the "automated schedule requester." It will select the most advanced math class for a student based on three years of reading and math FCAT data. After the computer is done, students and parents can still meet with guidance counselors if they believe the class is a bad match.
There is another plus. Minority students are underrepresented in advanced math classes. Basing the initial placement decision on scores could eliminate any racial bias, unintentional or not, in assigning math classes.
Grego has assured the school board that students could opt out if the work truly is too hard, but not if they just need to apply themselves more.
Middle school is a time when students can begin to slip off the track to success, and failure to take tough enough math courses limits their options in high school and beyond. The particulars of any program that helps to solve that problem are not so important as the recognition of the problem itself — and a willingness to face it head on.