And as the district has increased its enrollment in Algebra 1 in the past few years, that premise has turned out to be true. The middle schoolers taking Algebra 1 in Yonkers outperform high schoolers on the Regents exam, Quezada said.
“Something is going on either instructionally or in the environment,” he said.
Quezada believes the success Yonkers is seeing among middle schoolers stems largely from them taking the course in an environment they are familiar with, instead of trying to tackle the class while they are adjusting to their new high school setting.
In order to increase middle school enrollment, the district has had to tackle some of the barriers that often keep students from accessing higher-level courses.
In some cases, schools did not have enough seats available for students interested in and eligible to take the course. In others, students were being overlooked because they were not deemed proficient on state assessments.
“It’s a mindset shift more than anything,” he said. “It’s about making tough decisions and saying we will not allow certain hindrances to be the only factors to decide who will and will not be able to take these courses.”
Quezada also believes that all of the district’s high schoolers should take advanced coursework before they graduate. In order to do that, both to be academically prepared and ensure time in their schedule, the district is working to ensure more middle schoolers take high school courses. Along with Algebra 1 that includes advanced foreign languages and Earth Science.
“If I can facilitate you walking into high school with two or three Regents credits, then I am opening the doors of opportunity for you to take more advanced courses later,” he said. “What a great opportunity that is for a young person.”