OP-ED: Precalculus and Intro to Calculus

Alpin Yukseloglu, Campus Reporter

Precalculus and Introduction to Calculus are two Kent math courses with more than half of the material overlapping between the two. Even so, many students at Kent are required to take both. Furthermore, students who are taking Precalculus, a course that aims to prepare them for a college level Calculus class, must take Introduction to Calculus before moving on to Calculus. This requirement means that most students who were otherwise on track to take an AP Calculus class are stopped from doing so before graduating from high school.

Two years ago, I felt like many of my friends fell into this “trap” of being placed into Kent’s Precalculus as a junior, and it felt to many like the end of their aspirations to study Calculus in high school. To me, it felt very unjust. A conversation with Kevin Saxton, the current Chair of the Math Department, changed that belief entirely.

Citing a University of Chicago study, Saxton explains that “the vast majority of American students aren’t ready for Calculus after an algebra II/precalculus foundation. The study showed that to be prepared for college-level Calculus, students need to have one more year.” He explains that the college-level Calculus has become popularized largely because of effective marketing from the College Board to fill their AP classes.

Rushing to Calculus for students who aren’t properly prepared, however, forces a watered down Math curriculum to get the students placed in those classes early. “A lot of students show up and say ‘I’ve done Precalc’ and show ten things that they have done and checked off in their workbook,” says Saxton. “Math isn’t a workbook. Math isn’t about just knowing how to do ten things. There’s a lot more to it about problem-solving, modeling, using logic, using language, and understanding that mathematics in real life isn’t just equations that pop up [in which] you just solve for X.”

Thus, Kent’s Precalculus and Introduction to Calculus courses are not unjust parts of a math curriculum that holds students back from taking college-level Calculus in high school, but they are a necessary buffer to save a student’s long-term career in mathematics. Perhaps it does so at the cost of an extra year of high school math, but if the alternative is to rush students into a class they are simply not prepared to take, the repercussions of requiring an Introduction to Calculus course are anything but severe.