*This article was updated on Dec. 18 to include a clarification and a correction. *

Add this to California school boards’ to-do lists for 2016: Create a clear-cut, objective policy for determining which incoming 9^{th}-grade students qualify to accelerate their sequence of math courses in high school. Districts must have the criteria in place by the start of the next school year under a state law that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Earlier this year the Legislature passed Senate Bill 359, known as the California Mathematics Placement Act. Advocates of the new law, led by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, say it is a big win for equity: providing all students equal access to courses culminating in Calculus in their senior year, giving them an advantage in admission to the University of California or a head start in majoring in science or engineering.

Past research indicated that low-income, African-American and Hispanic students were disproportionately held back from a more advanced course they should have been placed in. The new law was written to ensure that all students face the same objective criteria for determining the path to calculus. But they also acknowledge it’s too soon to say what the right criteria and the most effective pathway to advanced math will be; determining that may take years of experimenting and refining.

“The law is but the first step,” said Gina Dalma, special adviser to the CEO for public policy at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. “We are hoping to see district leaders’ commitment to fairness and equity. Our concern is that the process will be done lightly instead of deeply.”

The new law coincides with the transition to the Common Core standards, which already have shaken up thinking about the timing and progression of math courses. The creators of the Common Core laid out a sequence of math standards for courses through middle school and presented several options for high school. California has left it to districts to decide how to accelerate courses and who should be eligible for those options. Many districts haven’t decided how that should be done, leaving it to the judgment of teachers.

Common Core math takes a deliberate, multi-year approach to Algebra, since it is the foundation for higher math. Algebra concepts are introduced in 7^{th} and 8^{th} grade, followed by a full Algebra course, with elements of Geometry, in 9^{th} grade. The standard sequence would then be a Geometry course in 10^{th} grade, Algebra II in 11^{th} and Precalculus as a senior. An alternative approach to Common Core math combines elements of algebra, geometry and statistics in three progressively more difficult courses in 9^{th}, 10^{th} and 11^{th} grades. Many school districts have adopted this sequence, calling it Integrated Math I, Math II and Math III.

The minimum course requirement for admission to the California State University and the University of California is math through Algebra II or Integrated Math III. But at least one year of Calculus or AP Statistics is needed for admission to competitive University of California campuses like UC Berkeley and UCLA. Therefore, either math sequence, traditional or integrated, requires students to accelerate the course sequences in high school – somehow compacting three years of math into two years to make room for higher-level courses in a student’s senior year.

In California, the math teachers and professors who drew up the Common Core math frameworks (see a summary of the options) suggested several acceleration options, but left it to districts to decide when and how. A new study of math in 10 California districts, coauthored by researchers Neal Finkelstein and Rebecca Perry of WestEd and expected out this month, has found great variations in timing of acceleration and course sequence with little evidence yet on which approach works best.

The California Mathematics Placement Act, sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, will formalize that 9^{th} grade placement process by requiring districts and charter schools to establish a “fair, objective, and transparent” policy for placing incoming 9^{th}-graders in math courses.

The act “picked up on the critical issue that the criteria for identifying which students would be accelerated were often unevenly applied, inviting racial bias and equity concerns,” said Finkelstein, chief researcher on several math placement studies for WestEd.

The law requires districts to adopt “multiple objective academic measures,” which could include statewide standardized test results, student portfolios and other placement tests predictive of math readiness, interim assessments and grades. Those districts that currently have a uniform policy of placing all students in the same course in 9^{th} grade but have an option for accelerating later in high school would meet the requirements, Dalma said.

Among the provisions, the law requires that districts:

- Check within the first month of 9
^{th}grade to ensure that a student is in the right class; - Examine the data yearly to identify whether students who were qualified to move ahead in math had not been advanced and to quantify the numbers by race, ethnicity, gender and family income;
- Report the data to the school board and post it on district websites;
- Allow parents the right to challenge schools’ placement decisions for their children.

The law also encourages high school districts to work with feeder elementary and middle school districts to create uniform placement policies.

Supporters of the law hope that the provisions will prevent misplacing students who should be in advanced courses. But incorrect assignments also occur when students are pushed into a higher-level course before they’re ready. Research (here, here and here) has shown both instances were frequent in California.

The previous state math standards encouraged students to take Algebra I in 8^{th} grade so they could be on track to take Calculus by their senior year.

**Retreat from universal 8**^{th}-grade Algebra

^{th}-grade Algebra

By 2013, two-thirds of students were taking Algebra I in 8^{th} grade, and passage rates on the state’s California Standards Test increased, although the passage rate was no higher than 40 percent.

But studies showed that student placement decisions were disjointed and subjective, often with a detrimental impact. Some schools designed 8^{th}-grade Algebra classes that lacked rigor and left students unprepared for higher-level math in high school. A study of 24,000 California students by researchers at the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd found that one-third of students who took Algebra I repeated the course, with only a slim percentage passing it the second or even third time.

An oft-quoted 2010 study of Bay Area districts found that nearly half of students who had grades of B- or higher or passed standardized tests in Algebra I were held back for a second year in Algebra rather than promoted to Geometry. The study found significant differences in course placement correlated with students’ ethnicity or parental education – potentially indicating teachers’ unconscious bias in placement decisions.

### Great variation in approaches

The new law applies only to 9^{th}-grade placement, but acceleration decisions are starting in some districts, including Cupertino Union School District, in 5^{th} grade, leading to accelerated classes in middle school, and as late as 11^{th} grade in other districts, such as San Francisco Unified.

Supporters of the new law hope that districts will apply the same principles of fairness and objectivity they will implement for 9^{th} grade under the new law in whatever grades placement decisions are made. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation offers sample middle school and high school placement policies on its website.

The community foundation had proposed a bill covering more grades but, as a compromise, chose the start of high school partly to encourage elementary districts feeding into a high school district to adopt the same approach.

That will be critical in districts like the Modesto City High School District, which decides which freshmen from eight to 10 feeder districts will take an honors Integrated Math I course, a standard Math I course or a support class for students needing extra help. The district has not begun to set the criteria for placing students in these classes, said Mike Coats, senior director of educational services for the district.

The Jefferson Union High School District in Foster City and its four feeder districts, which formed a collaborative to work on placement issues several years ago, could offer a model. Starting in 7^{th} grade, all students take a common multi-step performance assessment created by the Mathematics Assessment Resource Center, or MARS, that tests knowledge and a conceptual understanding of math.

They take another MARS performance test in 8^{th} grade. The combined scores determine what course they will be placed in in 9^{th} grade. A teacher’s recommendation can be used to advance a student whose test scores don’t qualify for acceleration. But to prevent potential bias, a teacher’s recommendation cannot be used to hold back a student whose scores qualify them for advancement, said Jefferson Elementary School District Superintendent Bernardo Vidales.

The district collaborative is also looking into using scores on interim Smarter Balanced tests given in the spring of 8^{th} grade, or, if available in time for placement decisions, the end-of-year 8^{th}-grade Smarter Balanced tests.

About 10 to 20 percent of students in the district collaborative have been determined to be eligible for a Math II course in 9^{th} grade. He said those students need to demonstrate mastery of 8^{th} grade standards to justify skipping Math 1.

**Lack of statewide data and guidance**

Critics, such as Ze’ev Wurman, a Palo Alto software engineer who helped draft the 1997 California math standards, deride the Common Core’s more gradual approach to Algebra I as punishing students capable of handling advanced math and dumbing down the curriculum. Defenders of the Common Core sequence assert that, with a better math foundation, more students will successfully complete Algebra II or Integrated Math III, the minimum requirements for admission to CSU or UC, and then take a fourth year of math in high school.

Who’s right won’t be known for at least several years. It’s widely assumed that fewer students, under the Common Core, are taking Algebra I in 8th grade. The state doesn’t currently require districts to report course enrollment by grade but according to a representative sample of students who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, the percentage 8th graders taking Algebra I has fallen from 54 in the 2012-13 school year to 28 percent in 2014-15. All 8th graders now take the same Smarter Balanced test, and the state has stopped giving end-of-year subject tests in math to students in 9th and 10th grades. *(See note at bottom of the article,)*

But Cupertino, a K-8 district, and San Francisco Unified illustrate the vast differences in approaches and philosophy to math placement.

With a handful of exceptions, San Francisco has no acceleration option before 11^{th} grade. All students are required to take Algebra I in 9^{th} grade and Geometry in 10^{th }grade. In 11^{th} grade, students and their parents, in consultation with school counselors, will be able to decide whether to take an accelerated combined Algebra II/Precalculus course, said Jim Ryan, the executive director for science, technology, engineering and math education.

The exception was for incoming 9^{th}-grade students from private schools who had taken Algebra I in 8^{th} grade; they have been given a placement test to see if they were ready for Geometry in 9^{th} grade. Last year, after parents of 8^{th}-graders in the district protested the lack of an acceleration option in 9th grade for their kids, the district allowed all students to take the same test. Only 120 students in total passed and are now taking Geometry in 9^{th} grade. They make up less than 4 percent of 9^{th}-graders, Ryan said.

The district hasn’t promised to continue the test and has asked lawyers whether a uniform policy of placing all 9^{th}-graders in Algebra I complies with the new law, Ryan said.

“We believe we will actually have more students in higher tracks and more advanced math,” Ryan said, because more students will have a stronger foundation in earlier grades and won’t have to repeat Algebra. They can then take an advanced course in their senior year.

Once you make advancement decisions in the younger grades, Ryan said, “students in the lower track are not prepared later on to make a choice.”

Cupertino Union Superintendent Wendy Gudalewicz said she too expected enrollment in Algebra I in 8^{th} grade to decline with the Common Core. But the opposite has happened since the district focused resources on Common Core math and instituted objective, transparent placement criteria, which complies with the math placement act.

The district begins placement testing in 5^{th} grade and continues each year, allowing middle school students to accelerate their course sequence for those ready for a tougher math curriculum. Currently, more than half of 8^{th}-graders are taking Geometry (triple the number two years ago), which is two years ahead of the standard sequence, and a quarter are taking Algebra I, with about 20 percent taking the standard 8^{th}-grade Common Core math course.

Students in San Francisco Unified and Cupertino exceeded the average statewide scores on the initial Smarter Balanced math tests this year. But despite these efforts, significant gaps still exist between Hispanic and African-American students’ scores and those of Asians and white children in both districts.

“Math is a big deal” in her district, Cupertino’s Gudalewicz said. Denying a child who’s ready to advance would be like keeping a freshman star athlete off the varsity team or telling a pianist who plays concertos to learn scales again, she said.

**Corrections and clarifications:**

*This article has been updated to reflect the following:*

*While the state is not currently collecting data on course enrollment, Ze’ev Wurman, who is referred to in this article, directed us after the article’s publication to the results of a survey of the representative number of 8th grade students in California who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the test given every two years to a cross-section of 137,000 8th-grade students across the United States.*

*This story has been updated to clarify that the Smarter Balanced math scores for the Cupertino and San Francisco school districts exceeded the average statewide scores for the first year the test was administered. *

*To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.*

## Comments (17)

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Jen5 years ago5 years agoI have 2 kids, one is double accelerated. He is working geometry as a 8th grader, working calculus home with me. My younger is 5th grader triple accelerated working 8th in school and algebra with me home. I found my older one is more advanced in math but less accelerated in school because I did not ask and he did not have a teacher actively push for him. My daughter however was lucky and … Read More

I have 2 kids, one is double accelerated. He is working geometry as a 8th grader, working calculus home with me. My younger is 5th grader triple accelerated working 8th in school and algebra with me home. I found my older one is more advanced in math but less accelerated in school because I did not ask and he did not have a teacher actively push for him. My daughter however was lucky and had a teacher willing to push for her. And that was the different for us.

Bill Winters6 years ago6 years agoMy DS is 13 y/o and an 8th grader. He is starting Pre-Calculus in January. He’ll finish by the summer and be ready for Calculus by 9th grade. He is taking common core based classes with 95% or better test score. He is African American. He score 693 on a recent PSAT. He is a normal boy with parents who support his studies. It is not complicated.

Jane Curley7 years ago7 years agoScarsdale High School in NY is considered a top public school. They track kids at the end of seventh grade. After that, it is very difficult to switch tracks, unless you pass a placement test given by the high school. The catch? The placement test is a “secret.” Nobody is allowed to see them, and they have been using the same ones for years. There are definitively questions on them that do NOT correspond to … Read More

Scarsdale High School in NY is considered a top public school. They track kids at the end of seventh grade. After that, it is very difficult to switch tracks, unless you pass a placement test given by the high school. The catch? The placement test is a “secret.” Nobody is allowed to see them, and they have been using the same ones for years. There are definitively questions on them that do NOT correspond to the stated curriculum, even though it is claimed that they do.

So if you have an immature seventh grader who doesn’t dot i’s and cross t’s, or you move to the district after seventh grade and the honors class is full, well, tough luck. At least California is trying to move in the right direction.

I like Maya’s analogy. It’s spot on.

Bill Fehrenbach7 years ago7 years ago“But at least one year of Calculus or AP Statistics is needed for admission to competitive University of California campuses like UC Berkeley and UCLA. ”

I’m not from California or the UC System, but a visit to the UC-Berkeley website does not indicate that this is a true statement. Having Calculus or Stats in high school might give a student an advantage, but to say “needed for admission” appears to be false.

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Maya7 years ago7 years agoI thought the author was talking about the UC Berkeley Engineering department (and granted it’s not clear).

The Engineering department says this:

“Although a minimum of three years of college preparatory math is required, we strongly recommend completing four years. Since engineering admission is very competitive, applicants must do more than the minimum, particularly in math and science”

http://engineering.berkeley.edu/admissions/undergrad-admissions/prospective-freshman-faqs

Bill Winters6 years ago6 years agoIt is difficult if not impossible to be admitted into UC system unless you are a international student paying 3-6X the tuition or some other "legacy" type of applicant. This is the "dirty little secret" that the Cal Dept of Ed doesn't want use to know. Well we figured it out. Chinese nationals are using EB-5 to get there kids into the U.S. for Stanford, UCB and the Ivy's. They can … Read More

It is difficult if not impossible to be admitted into UC system unless you are a international student paying 3-6X the tuition or some other “legacy” type of applicant. This is the “dirty little secret” that the Cal Dept of Ed doesn’t want use to know. Well we figured it out. Chinese nationals are using EB-5 to get there kids into the U.S. for Stanford, UCB and the Ivy’s. They can have it. I am advising my DS to graduate high school early with as much dual credit as possible. As an engineering recruiter, I can assure you that UCB and the other elite colleges are not worth the $$$ nor the bother. Experience is exponentially more important, with the exception of the internship, maybe.

doug liser7 years ago7 years agoIt amazes me how educators can think that high school calculus is optional for science and engineering college students. Calculus is required to understand engineering-level Physics 101, for example. Freshman without high school calculus start their college career in science classes that require math they don't yet have while attending "Math I" with classmates entering with a year of calculus experience. It's exceedingly difficult for many freshman to adapt to college life and at the … Read More

It amazes me how educators can think that high school calculus is optional for science and engineering college students. Calculus is required to understand engineering-level Physics 101, for example. Freshman without high school calculus start their college career in science classes that require math they don’t yet have while attending “Math I” with classmates entering with a year of calculus experience. It’s exceedingly difficult for many freshman to adapt to college life and at the same time to deal with learning a totally different kind of math. Calculus requires conceptual understanding of infinity and continuity for example and at the same time demands memorization of derivative and integral formulas (along with their derivations).

I went to engineering school with classmates in that boat and many didn’t make it through their freshman year. While I never searched for predictors of college success in engineering school, it would seem that the level of high school calculus proficiency would be number one. I always wondered why students without calculus were even accepted. Maybe the university should have run a summer boot camp in math for entering freshman. That was many years ago and colleges admission has gotten much tighter. I’m sure UCB has no problem filling an entire engineering entrance class with AP math graduates.

David7 years ago7 years agoHowever, the kids who entered without calculus probably did worse in HS math, which in turn suggests they have lower ability to perform well in math. Some of the deficit was in subject matter they had been taught, some in terms of mathematical ability, so many of those kids faced a huge challenge as engineering freshmen. Having more kids complete calculus may fix some of that. Even if they do poorly on the AP … Read More

However, the kids who entered without calculus probably did worse in HS math, which in turn suggests they have lower ability to perform well in math. Some of the deficit was in subject matter they had been taught, some in terms of mathematical ability, so many of those kids faced a huge challenge as engineering freshmen.

Having more kids complete calculus may fix some of that. Even if they do poorly on the AP exam because they were pushing even beyond their speed limit in high school to get to calculus, they’ll have seen it once and may do better if they have to retake it in college and/or use the ideas in physics. Physics really needs only the easiest stuff from calculus: no proofs, no theorems, the integrals are very easy, etc. Remembering what to do with sines, cosines and polynomials is probably enough.

Don7 years ago7 years agoJohn, just one more quick point about SFUSD math performance. I did a breakdown of SBAC scores for each grade for SFUSD and CA. 8th grade scores, the threshold year for 9th grade placement decisions make a good comparison as typical of other years as well. Comparing SFUSD math scores with statewide, black and Latino subgroups significantly underperformed here in SF. Asians broke even more or less and whites significantly outperformed. … Read More

John, just one more quick point about SFUSD math performance.

I did a breakdown of SBAC scores for each grade for SFUSD and CA. 8th grade scores, the threshold year for 9th grade placement decisions make a good comparison as typical of other years as well. Comparing SFUSD math scores with statewide, black and Latino subgroups significantly underperformed here in SF. Asians broke even more or less and whites significantly outperformed. What often goes unreported in SFUSD is the fact that our district typically does better in aggregate due to its outsized Asian population at four times the state average, most of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch. I know you did mention that significant gaps still exist, but I don’t think that quite does the numbers justice when you look at the breakdowns. SFUSD is not now nor has it ever been an overperforming district since they’ve been keeping records, yet it manages to pass itself off as an one year after year.

The Superintendent will make speeches about its stellar performance only mentioning secondarily that we have to do better for people of color when the sorry truth is our relative performance is abysmal upon closer inspection of underserved subgroups. SFUSD is effectively touting the results of its high achievers while instituting policies to bring them down.

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Bill Winters6 years ago6 years agoNot to be disrepectful, but my son is African-American. He is 13 and completing H.S. Honors Algebra II. He is outperforming every white and Asian student in his class, as he is projected to finish his A-G requirements before finishing 8th grade. Here is the problem. Schools do not know how to teach blacks, Hispanics, disabled or any child that doesn't look like their own. I call California schools "babysitters." Thanks for the … Read More

Not to be disrepectful, but my son is African-American. He is 13 and completing H.S. Honors Algebra II. He is outperforming every white and

Asian student in his class, as he is projected to finish his A-G requirements before finishing 8th grade.

Here is the problem. Schools do not know how to teach blacks, Hispanics, disabled or any child that doesn’t look like their own.

I call California schools “babysitters.” Thanks for the low cost day care. I’ll support my children mathematics education, thank you. His 23 year-old sister just finished a 3/2 double major in Biochemistry and Physics. She went to one of the worst high schools in Modesto.

My family really doesn’t need much advice from “educators” or their extravagant studies, as they do not apply to caring Black and Hispanic families.

Gary Ravani7 years ago7 years agoAnyone ever consider that we (the US as a whole) have an unhealthy obsession with Math and Science? Certainly the two subjects deserve their place in the curricular firmament, but the current focus leaves other subject areas, e.g., social sciences, the arts and performing arts, languages, language arts, career tech, etc., well behind. What should be on the agenda is an emphasis on all students getting a well rounded, liberal, education. This has a better … Read More

Anyone ever consider that we (the US as a whole) have an unhealthy obsession with Math and Science? Certainly the two subjects deserve their place in the curricular firmament, but the current focus leaves other subject areas, e.g., social sciences, the arts and performing arts, languages, language arts, career tech, etc., well behind. What should be on the agenda is an emphasis on all students getting a well rounded, liberal, education. This has a better chance of the “outcomes” being well rounded citizens who have an opportunity to expand and explore further educational refinements in adult and higher education.

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Paul Muench7 years ago7 years agoThis problem is created by the structuring of education into grades and classes. Would experimenting with other approaches qualify for meeting the requirements of this law? For example having students progress individually from topic to topic.

ash7 years ago7 years agoI would think that if our society was truly "obsessed" with math and science, our kids would still have access to Algebra in 8th grade. While my children don't go to school in San Francisco, we are fighting with the same issues in their district because the school district arbitrarily decided to offer Algebra to only around 10% of their students in 8th grade. No, I would say that California's unhealthy obsession is with "equal … Read More

I would think that if our society was truly “obsessed” with math and science, our kids would still have access to Algebra in 8th grade. While my children don’t go to school in San Francisco, we are fighting with the same issues in their district because the school district arbitrarily decided to offer Algebra to only around 10% of their students in 8th grade.

No, I would say that California’s unhealthy obsession is with “equal outcomes,” especially because those “equal outcomes” are generally achieved by bringing the top students down instead of the bringing bottom students up.

Maya7 years ago7 years ago"“Math is a big deal” in her district, Cupertino’s Gudalewicz said. Denying a child who’s ready to advance would be like keeping a freshman star athlete off the varsity team or telling a pianist who plays concertos to learn scales again, she said." I think the Superintendent is spot on. I agree with so many of the goals for the SFUSD except for the way they've implemented the math sequence. What … Read More

““Math is a big deal” in her district, Cupertino’s Gudalewicz said. Denying a child who’s ready to advance would be like keeping a freshman star athlete off the varsity team or telling a pianist who plays concertos to learn scales again, she said.” I think the Superintendent is spot on.

I agree with so many of the goals for the SFUSD except for the way they’ve implemented the math sequence.

What Mr Ryan says here : “Once you make advancement decisions in the younger grades, Ryan said, “students in the lower track are not prepared later on to make a choice.” only makes sense if you don’t offer the “lower” track a pathway to catch up.

These students who were not ready earlier can take double up in 9th or 10th grade. Or the district could craft the aforementioned 3 year track in 9th grade to get to 12th grade AP Math.

Currently the district is offering these solutions:

On-line summer school solution (out of pocket expense for parents), doubling up in math in the 9th or 10th grade or the 11th grade Algebra 2/Pre Calculus course in the 11th. Out of all of these, this one year compression course concerns me the most.

There are 2 AP Math tracks. AB and BC Calculus BC is more rigorous. It isn’t clear to me that the compressed class currently contains the prerequisites needed for the more rigorous BC course.

This isn’t only about Math either. This is also about Science. I’m an Electrical Engineer. I understand what one needs to take in order to apply to these colleges.

One can’t take an Algebra based science class unless they have Algebra 2 or taking Algebra 2 concurrently. Not allowing capable students the opportunity to complete Algebra 1 by the end of 8th grade delays their science track too.

SFUSD STEM bound students will be competing with the surrounding districts which allow their students a pathway to Algebra in 8th grade for UC seats. These kids will have the opportunity to take advanced science classes earlier than the SFUSD students.

Not only that but by the SFUSD on admission, private school students who enter in to the SFUSD high schools have the advantage over K-8 public students.

This is a highly inequitable situation. Those of us who can afford summer school/ on-line classes will also have the advantage. I’m paying for my daughter to take an approved on-line class for credit next year when she enters 9th grade. Because I want her to have the opportunity to take an Algebra based physics in 10th grade just as her brother has.

That said? I do not want to turn this post in to SFUSD bashing. I love this district. I love our experience. I am so impressed with everything that has come before. This is my only quarrel with them. The implementation of the Math sequence. I’ve lodged my concerns and now, I’m just on the path to remedy this for my child . Knowing full well, this because I have the means to do so.

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David7 years ago7 years agoAs I learned calculus in high school 40 years ago, BC calculus didn't have any specific prerequisites in addition to AB calculus. It started in the same place but went much faster. Now I think they try to give honors kids part of AB calculus in 11th grade so that the BC class doesn't have to do it all in 12th, at least in my district. In any case the 11th grade … Read More

As I learned calculus in high school 40 years ago, BC calculus didn’t have any specific prerequisites in addition to AB calculus. It started in the same place but went much faster. Now I think they try to give honors kids part of AB calculus in 11th grade so that the BC class doesn’t have to do it all in 12th, at least in my district. In any case the 11th grade honors class is normally a very substantial class. For us it was harder than calculus. We did some proofs and some three dimensional vector algebra. It was a cut-down class to limit the size of the BC class.

Trying to do two years of math in one at the high school level seems very hard to me, and it would never produce the maturity with the material needed to do well in BC calculus. The better place to accelerate is back around 7th grade as we always did, when the smarter kids are getting bored out of their minds with the slow pace of math. Then even if the pace is a little fast for some of them, they have years to solidify it. If they are only so-so in Algebra 1, they get lots more practice in Algebra 2 after a year’s break taking Geometry. There’s no substitute for time in learning the language of algebraic manipulations.

Don7 years ago7 years agoThanks to John for covering this issue. SFUSD leaders have not addressed the inequity that their policy creates and they are singularly focused on equity otherwise. Question: Which students will be able to workaround the current sequencing regimen by doubling up in math, taking summer courses at CCSF (which currently are not available to 9th and 10th graders) or possibly elsewhere outside the City, or taking expansive online Algebra 1 courses? Answer: Students with the … Read More

Thanks to John for covering this issue.

SFUSD leaders have not addressed the inequity that their policy creates and they are singularly focused on equity otherwise.

Question: Which students will be able to workaround the current sequencing regimen by doubling up in math, taking summer courses at CCSF (which currently are not available to 9th and 10th graders) or possibly elsewhere outside the City, or taking expansive online Algebra 1 courses?

Answer: Students with the time and means.

Equity anyone? And private school students are given the leg up on public school students as they have not eliminated 8th grade Algebra.

In the meantime, students at Lowell HS, an academic magnet school and one the the top high schools in the country, who didn’t get in from private school passing the validation test so as not to repeat Algebra 1, have to double up and take two math classes in 9th or 10th grade in an effort to avoid taking the poorly conceived and highly criticized 11th grade compression course on the way to Calculus. And taking an extra core class removes the one single elective that most students are afforded at such a rigorous school. Woe to students who proceed from one academic class to another with little or no chance to express their artistic or musical sides, for example.

SFUSD buys into the broad brush idea that 8th grade Algebra is developmentally inappropriate for all, but it just doesn’t hold water. Many students previously excelled in math in 8th grade and were clearly ready for a greater challenge. Now many of their counterparts are expressing frustration with the failure of differentiated learning to address their needs. At the same time, many students are confounded by the esoteric and often bizarre new curriculum that SFUSD rolled out – a curriculum that is hard to understand for anyone other than a trained professional.

John said that the results of the sequencing changes won’t be known for many years. I’m not sure they will ever be known what with the problems with SBAC and the concurrent implementation of Common Core, new curriculums and new sequences. It is going to be a tough call to attribute the results to one or the other, exacerbated further by other multiple inconsistencies between district implementations and funding mechanisms.

And we have yet to see how SFUSD will handle the requirements of the Math Placement Act of 2015. They have gone down a very extreme path betting the farm and their students on an untested standard, an untested curriculum and an untested developmental theory.

doug liser7 years ago7 years agoThe big difference is that if you are a competent math student and can’t afford private school or a math tutor, in Cupertino you’ll get placed as high as possible for your ability. In SF you’ll be in the lowest track, as many as two years behind your peers in Cupertino. Hats off to Ms. Gudalewicz for making advanced math accessible to all!