Regents Recap — June 2013: Solving Quadratic Equations
Here is another installment in my series reviewing the NY State Regents exams in mathematics.
Solving equations is a fundamental mathematical skill, and it makes sense that we emphasize it in school curricula. And since quadratic functions come up quite a bit in mathematical and scientific exploration, and offer a good balance of accessibility and complexity, it makes sense that solving quadratic equations is a particular point of emphasis.
This June, each of the three New York math Regents exams had at least one problem that required the student to solve a quadratic equation. I don’t really have any objection to this, but what I find strange is the implied gap in mathematical content suggested by the types of questions asked.
Consider the following two questions. The first is from the Integrated Algebra exam and the second is from the Algebra 2 / Trig exam. These two exams, and their corresponding courses, are typically taken 2-3 years apart.
The only difference between the content of these questions is the nature of the solutions of the equations. In the first, the solutions are integers; in the second, the solutions are irrational numbers. Thus, students are taught to solve quadratic equations with integer solutions in the Integrated Algebra course, but it isn’t until at least two years later that they are taught to solve quadratic equations with non-integer solutions.
That seems like an unreasonably long gap to me. I’m not sure what the reasoning is behind waiting 2-3 years to teach students how to solve more complicated quadratic equations. Maybe someone can make a sensible argument for this pacing and structure, but I’m not sure I can.