Courtesy: San Francisco Unified School District
San Francisco Unified School District students engage in learning in a prepandemic classroom.

Imagine it’s a student’s first day of ninth grade in the San Francisco Unified School District in 2012. Let’s call her Veronica. On her schedule is a math class full of other ninth graders repeating the Algebra 1 content they saw in eighth grade.  She thinks to herself, “Ugh, I don’t want to have to do this again.”

In fifth grade, Veronica thought of math as her favorite subject. While her grades were not the highest, she had an engaging teacher who would adjust instruction according to students’ strengths and needs. Other students loved partnering with Veronica in the small group work because she was a creative thinker.

Then came middle school, when Veronica noticed she was put into “regular” math while other students were put into an “honors” math class. How did those students get into that other class? Veronica was not sure if she was still a “math person,” given this new development.

Back to Veronica’s first day of ninth grade. While other students started ninth grade in geometry, Veronica started ninth grade in an Algebra 1 class, again. In fact, Veronica was not alone. In San Francisco Unified’s class of 2014, only half of those students proceeded from Algebra 1 in eighth grade to geometry in ninth grade in large part because they could not pass the California standardized test known as STAR.

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in 2013, San Francisco Unified and other school districts across California were charged with implementing the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. The changes in the standards necessitated a new math course sequence. For example, most school districts had to change the way they taught eighth grade mathematics because, in addition to Algebra 1 concepts, they had to also teach concepts like probability, statistics and geometry.

Thus, San Francisco Unified developed a new math course sequence that gave broader access to grade-level mathematics courses to students like Veronica. Now all students in the district take Common Core-aligned mathematics courses in grades six-10 and have multiple pathways for taking upper-level math courses such as AP Statistics and AP Calculus. Here I’d like to hold up three statistics that speak volumes about this work in mathematics.

First, within San Francisco Unified’s course sequence, we see more students accessing courses beyond Algebra 2. While AP courses are not the only measure of success, enrollment is one way of seeing if students have access to advanced mathematics. We see growth in total AP Calculus and AP Statistics courses, not only because of growth in general enrollment; total AP math enrollment has grown from 1,611 to 1,790 students from the 2016–2017 school year to the 2020–2021 school year.

Second, our district’s course sequence increases opportunities for African American and Latino students to take advanced math courses or math courses required for graduation. For example, we see the percentage of African American and Latino students enrolling beyond courses in Algebra 2 moving from 11% and 14% in 2016–2017 to 14% and 16% of African American and Latino students in 2019–2020. We also have more African American, Latino, multilingual learners and foster youth, among other historically marginalized subgroups of students, finishing math courses required for high school graduation, which is helping to boost SFUSD’s graduation rate for these students.

Third, this work is not simple, so every year San Francisco Unified provides professional development and coaching for hundreds of teachers.  From 2015-2018, more than 100 middle school math teachers (out of about 150) per year received one-to-one coaching support. From 2016-2019, an average of 240 middle and high school math teachers per year (out of about 350) participated in central or site-based professional development. To design and deliver these professional learning opportunities, we have worked with researchers from the University of Washington, San Francisco State, Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley to support our teachers and build their skill and knowledge for diverse classrooms.

San Francisco Unified’s work to change our system has been celebrated. In fact, the California State Board of Education’s first draft of its new state-level math framework referenced our district’s work to improve their math programming as a rationale for some revisions. While some have expressed concerns about these changes, professional organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics have joined San Francisco Unified in calling for an end to tracking in mathematics classes, while colleges and universities like the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools have changed their admissions language around college readiness in mathematics.

At San Francisco Unified, we are focused on continuously improving our math programming with teacher professional development and coaching. In the end, we are removing the barriers caused by tracking and giving students a pathway to accelerate to advanced math courses that prepare them for college and career. We are following the numbers.

•••

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District

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  1. Martin Tsai 9 months ago9 months ago

    Hi Rori, You seem to possess a lot of data about SFUSD’s claims but unfortunately similar to those found in the draft math framework, some of them don’t stand up under scrutiny (no offense). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “We are in a new decade post No Child Left Behind, post Common Core and post-pandemic.” Not true on multiple counts. We are still in Common Core and tell the emergency room doctors and nurses that we are post-pandemic. But even if we were, … Read More

    Hi Rori,

    You seem to possess a lot of data about SFUSD’s claims but unfortunately similar to those found in the draft math framework, some of them don’t stand up under scrutiny (no offense).

    ————————————————————————————————————-
    “We are in a new decade post No Child Left Behind, post Common Core and post-pandemic.”

    Not true on multiple counts. We are still in Common Core and tell the emergency room doctors and nurses that we are post-pandemic. But even if we were, in the open Letter on K-12 Mathematics by over 1,500 tech industry professionals and STEM college educator (see link 1 below) opined “reducing access to advanced mathematics and elevating trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills (as proposed in Curriculum Math framework (CMF)) would cause lasting damage to STEM education in the country and exacerbate inequality by diminishing access to the skills needed for social mobility.”

    (link 1) https://sites.google.com/view/k12mathmatters/homeadobe_mc=

    TS%3D1638770283%7CMCMID%3D55830445128708458578967747253879889721%7CMCORGID%3DCB68E4BA55144CAA0A4C98A5%40AdobeOrg&wsj_native_webview=androidphone

    ————————————————————————————————————-
    “you no longer need to take Calculus to be competitive when applying to UC’s.”

    i) This is misleading. Whereas Calculus has not been explicitly stated as a requirement for UC admissions in the recent past, its importance has been spelled out in BOARS Statement on the Impact of Calculus on UC Admissions (BOARS, April 2016, please see link 2 below). “Studying calculus in high school is especially helpful for students majoring in STEM fields, where coursework is highly sequential. … BOARS strongly recommends that high schools maintain calculus as an option for enthusiastic, well-prepared students.”

    (link 2) https://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/_files/committees/boars/documents/
    BOARS_Statement-Impact-Calculus.pdf

    ii) Furthermore, BOARS stated that “engineering applicants who will not have completed calculus at the time of their application might consider taking a standardized math exam to show their readiness for college mathematics.” With the dropping of SATs for UC admission considerations since 2020, what math course, if not Calculus (and/or AP Calculus), can STEM-minded HS students show on their transcripts to impress UC admission officers? (with qualitative factors considered for admission: e.g., first in the family to attend college or low family income that are mostly beyond the students’ control).

    iii) Additionally, (BOARS, 2016) clarified “In recent years only about one-quarter of UC applicants completed a calculus course by the start of their senior year.” According to College Board, among CA students who took the AP Calc exams, the ratio of 12th graders-to-11th graders has been approximately 2:1 in recent years (2015-2019). In CA, since over 90 percent of HS students enrolled in HS Calc end up taking the AP Calc exam, hence, it is reasonable to assume the same AP Calc 12th graders-to-11th graders 2:1 ratio also applies to HS Calculus course taking. Then two-quarters (1/2) of UC applicants (who did not complete Calc by the start of their senior year) would complete a Calc class by HS graduation for a total of three-quarters (3/4) of UC applicants that would complete a Calculus class by HS graduation. The BOARS statement was made in 2016, and the competition for entrance to UC has since become more intense as more students become eligible with the dropping of SATs for admission considerations (139,463 applied for admission to UCLA in 2021). In all likelihood, nowadays more than ¾ of UC applicants to STEM majors complete a HS Calc course before graduation. But CMF is proposing to suppress Calc taking in HS, it is not going to end well for all parties concerned.

    iv) Stated in the ICAS Statement on Competences in Mathematics Expected of Entering College Students, pp. 31, Revised May 2013 (please see link 2 below), “Prior to taking the course (Calculus), students should have successfully completed four years of secondary school mathematics.” Now CMF proposes mandating students to delay Algebra I taking to 9th grade as in SFUSD, then students will not have the “4 years of secondary math completion prior to taking Calc …” Compressing IMath II with pre-Calculus in a one year course is too hard for most students to handle (according to UCI Mathematics professor Svetlana Jitomirskay) and would negatively affect the students performance in AP Calc exams (SFUSD refused to release students’ AP Calc exam scores, what have they got to hide?) and besides the compressed math class is not recognized as an advanced math class by UC as pointed out by Maya.

    (link 3) https://icas-ca.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/ICAS-Statement-Math-Competencies-2013.pdf

    ————————————————————————————————————-
    “Math 8 and Algebra 1 dramatically changed and the old 8th grade Alebra is now taught to ALL students starting in the 6th grade.”

    That is factually incorrect. If that was the case “old 8th grade Algebra is now taught to ALL students starting in the 6th grade.” Even at a slow pace, one would expect old 8th grade Algebra takes no more than 2 years to be completed by students stating in the 6th grade. So by the end of the 7th grade they would have completed the old 8th grade Algebra standard together with the old 6th and 7th grade standard ( i.e., complete close to entirety of 3 years of math contents in 2). Why not continue and proceed to Algebra 1 in 8th grade as has been done in CA before Common Core ? (some of the probability and statistics standards for Common Core 8th grade can either be skipped or relegated to HS math courses as these concepts are non-trivial). Internationally, that is what most of the high achieving democratic countries like Singapore, South Korea and Japan have been doing in the past 60 years. Are you saying that US/CA students are not competitive with the rest of the world?

    ————————————————————————————————————-
    “California adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010 and the first state tests started in 2014.”

    Misleading. In August 2010 the California State Board of Education adopted the CCSS with a goal of full implementation by 2014. So the standards were not implemented until 2014.

  2. Deacon John Wilson III 10 months ago10 months ago

    See Maya K’s comment ….

    When I see blatant misrepresentation of facts to bolster one’s position, I realize their way is not the way to go. More equity does not improve math capability at all. I would like EdSource to cover the use of wrong data.

  3. SFUSD Math Teacher 10 months ago10 months ago

    While I don't support Parents for San Francisco, the report they compiled debunking Dr. Matthew's claims is valid. The district's own data contradicts Dr. Matthew's claims. The report is called "Inequity in Numbers" and they provide the data refutes Dr. Matthew's claims. Scroll down. https://www.familiesforsanfrancisco.com/updates/inequity-in-numbers Again, I don't support Families for San Francisco, but facts are facts, and mathematics education in SFUSD has taken a turn for the worse. So many of us are afraid to speak … Read More

    While I don’t support Parents for San Francisco, the report they compiled debunking Dr. Matthew’s claims is valid. The district’s own data contradicts Dr. Matthew’s claims.

    The report is called “Inequity in Numbers” and they provide the data refutes Dr. Matthew’s claims. Scroll down.

    https://www.familiesforsanfrancisco.com/updates/inequity-in-numbers

    Again, I don’t support Families for San Francisco, but facts are facts, and mathematics education in SFUSD has taken a turn for the worse. So many of us are afraid to speak out.

    Replies

    • Rori S Abernethy 10 months ago10 months ago

      Respectfully I disagree. I don't think that de-tracking and de-segregating math classes was a "turn for the worse". I don't think tracked Jim Crow math classes (separate but equal) is the way forward for our Black and Brown students. The Families for San Francisco report is full of inconsistencies. The report consists of old data from 2014 (and before), and in effect is out-dated ,skewed, and un-useful. We are in a new … Read More

      Respectfully I disagree. I don’t think that de-tracking and de-segregating math classes was a “turn for the worse”. I don’t think tracked Jim Crow math classes (separate but equal) is the way forward for our Black and Brown students.

      The Families for San Francisco report is full of inconsistencies. The report consists of old data from 2014 (and before), and in effect is out-dated ,skewed, and un-useful. We are in a new decade post No Child Left Behind, post Common Core and post-pandemic.

      I wonder about why Families for San Francisco didn’t use more recent SBAC data in doing their report? Maybe because the current SBAC data doesn’t support their narrative?

      “So many of us are afraid to speak out”
      I think Black and Brown families felt this the most for DECADES when their students were blocked from being the high level tracked math classes due to institutional bias.

      • Maya K 10 months ago10 months ago

        Hi Rori, The data in that report is recent. The Algebra 1 grades are older in response to a misleading claim that students had a lower fail rate when delays. Everything else is from public data requests from May. I agree with you about expanding access. This hasn't expanded access. Even Jo Boaler is backing away from this and it was her idea to begin with. The underserved community is left … Read More

        Hi Rori,

        The data in that report is recent. The Algebra 1 grades are older in response to a misleading claim that students had a lower fail rate when delays. Everything else is from public data requests from May.

        I agree with you about expanding access. This hasn’t expanded access. Even Jo Boaler is backing away from this and it was her idea to begin with. The underserved community is left with that compression course which is not precalculus, and Lizzy Hull Barnes admitted it wasn’t.

        This is not fair for Black and brown students. Bob Moses wanted more access not less and a Black engineering professor at Berkeley is also sounding the alarm. We need Black voices at the table and this makes it harder for Black and Latinx people to be heard.

  4. Maya K 10 months ago10 months ago

    This is unfortunately not what is actually going on. Families for San Francisco through CPRA (california's version of Freedom of Information act) analyzed these claims and found them deeply misleading. Here is the full report. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/60412a3a51d4863950d1bdf2/t/616e2f823696906267609f3f/1634611077888/Report-+Inequity+in+Numbers.pdf There was never a massive fail rate in 8th Algebra. The repeat rate was based on passing the Algebra 1 CST (California Standardized Test). 100 students failed Algebra 1 in 8th grade, the last cohort who took … Read More

    This is unfortunately not what is actually going on. Families for San Francisco through CPRA (california’s version of Freedom of Information act) analyzed these claims and found them deeply misleading.

    Here is the full report. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/60412a3a51d4863950d1bdf2/t/616e2f823696906267609f3f/1634611077888/Report-+Inequity+in+Numbers.pdf

    There was never a massive fail rate in 8th Algebra. The repeat rate was based on passing the Algebra 1 CST (California Standardized Test). 100 students failed Algebra 1 in 8th grade, the last cohort who took it (Class of 2018). 649 students had to repeat in 9th grade. This is directly from the data provided by the district.

    The advanced math increase claim however is the most egregious claim of all. The district (and the math department has admitted to this) is counting their compression Algebra 2 + Precalculus class as advanced math. A classification UC rejects. For the claim of increased math to work the district has created their own definition not recognized by UC or others.

    I am also deeply concerned that the district labels it as such on high school transcripts. The student taking this class will believe they have learned precalculus content. If they take AP Calculus in house SFUSD teachers are aware what is missing and can mitigate. However if they wait to take Calculus in college they are under the impression they are prepared but they are not. If they find themselves struggling in college they will likely blame themselves rather than the real culprit, they were not taught concepts they need.

    This class should be labeled correctly on high school transcripts.

    Replies

    • Rori Abernethy 10 months ago10 months ago

      Hi Maya, I am replying to your comment which is a bit confusing to me. "There was never a massive fail rate in 8th Algebra. " This course has not existed since 2014 "The repeat rate was based on passing the Algebra 1 CST (California Standardized Test)." This exam was replaced with the SBAC in 2014. The Algebra 1 CST has not existed for almost 10 years. And prior to 2014, most math teachers in California (and nationally) … Read More

      Hi Maya,

      I am replying to your comment which is a bit confusing to me.

      “There was never a massive fail rate in 8th Algebra. ”
      This course has not existed since 2014

      “The repeat rate was based on passing the Algebra 1 CST (California Standardized Test).”
      This exam was replaced with the SBAC in 2014. The Algebra 1 CST has not existed for almost 10 years. And prior to 2014, most math teachers in California (and nationally) had already begun to transition to the Common Core Math Framework.

      “100 students failed Algebra 1 in 8th grade, the last cohort who took it (Class of 2018). ”
      This cohort you are referring to were seniors in 2018 and in 8th grade in 2014. Again, this was almost 10 years ago.

      “649 students had to repeat in 9th grade. This is directly from the data provided by the district.”
      Again, I am not sure why your report references a class and a state exam that ceased to exist almost 10 years ago??

      The Algebra 1 content you are referring to in this comment and in your report is no being taught in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. And the Math content at all levels has been significantly rearranged. In addition, you no longer need to take Calculus to be competitive when applying to UC’s. You may find it useful to review the August 2021 statement from the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools Dr. Matthews referenced above https://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/_files/committees/boars/documents/statement-on-mathematics-preparation-for-uc.pdf

      It is important in this discussion that we use the most recent and relevant information to make informed choices on behalf all of our students.

      • Maya K 10 months ago10 months ago

        Hi Roni, I am sorry but what you are saying isn't correct. UC does require Calculus for STEM majors and they are clear about that. Also, in the Draft Math Framework introduction they say this: "Considering that many competitive colleges and universities (those that accept less than 25 percent of applicants) hold calculus as an unstated requirement, the inequitable pathway becomes even more problematic. Many students remain unaware that their status at the end of … Read More

        Hi Roni,

        I am sorry but what you are saying isn’t correct.

        UC does require Calculus for STEM majors and they are clear about that. Also, in the Draft Math Framework introduction they say this:

        “Considering that many competitive colleges and universities (those that accept less than 25 percent of applicants) hold calculus as an unstated requirement, the inequitable pathway becomes even more problematic. Many students remain unaware that their status at the end of fifth grade can determine their ability to attend a top university; if they are not in the advanced mathematics track and on a pathway to calculus in each of the subsequent six years of school, they will not meet this unstated admission requirement. ”

        It is very important for STEM bound students

        The SBAC test scores have dropped dramatically in San Francisco compared to the state after this change. Common core has nothing to do with delaying 8th algebra. All other districts in the state allow a pathway to Algebra 1 except ours.

        And the grades have dropped, the test scores dropped and the SAT scores have, too.

        • Rori Abernethy 10 months ago10 months ago

          "UC does require Calculus for STEM majors and they are clear about that." This is not true. Read below. There is no mention of Calculus. From the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools. August 2021 (Please see the link Dr. Matthews shared above) ("What might expanded options for college-prep math look like for students? The revised area C policy affirms that students may complete certain mathematics courses other than Algebra II or Mathematics III in their … Read More

          “UC does require Calculus for STEM majors and they are clear about that.”

          This is not true.
          Read below. There is no mention of Calculus. From the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools. August 2021 (Please see the link Dr. Matthews shared above)

          (“What might expanded options for college-prep math look like for students? The revised area C policy affirms that students may complete certain mathematics courses other
          than Algebra II or Mathematics III in their junior year of high school to fulfill the minimum admissions requirement (i.e., three years of high school math, though Algebra II or Mathematics
          III). The policy revisions also welcome a wider range of college-prep courses that high schools might offer to students in either their junior or senior year to satisfy the area C requirement.
          Below are sample course sequences students could complete to fulfill the area C requirement:
          Example 1: Math I  Math II  Statistics
          Example 2: Math I  Math II  Math III  Statistics
          Example 3: Math I  Math II  Math III  Introduction to Data Science
          Example 4: Algebra I  Geometry  Introduction to Data Science  AP Statistics
          Example 5: Algebra I  Geometry  Algebra II  Pre-Calculus”)
          —————————————————————————-

          “Also, in the Draft Math Framework introduction they say this:
          Considering that many competitive colleges and universities (those that accept less than 25 percent of applicants) hold calculus as an unstated requirement, the inequitable pathway becomes even more problematic. Many students remain unaware that their status at the end of fifth grade can determine their ability to attend a top university; if they are not in the advanced mathematics track and on a pathway to calculus in each of the subsequent six years of school, they will not meet this unstated admission requirement.
          It is very important for STEM bound students”

          That is why the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools UPDATED their policy.

          (“In support of new and innovative college-prep mathematics courses being developed in high
          schools across the state, the University of California announced in October 2020 an updated
          mathematics (area C) course policy, effective for the 2021–22 school year and onward.”)

          ———————————————————————————————
          “The SBAC test scores have dropped dramatically in San Francisco compared to the state after this change. ”

          They could not have dropped dramatically because the first EVER SBAC test was given after the change happened. So sorry, that makes no sense.

          ——————————————————————————————–
          “Common core has nothing to do with delaying 8th Algebra.”

          Common Core has everything to do with this. Math 8 and Algebra 1 dramatically changed and the old 8th grade Alebra is now taught to ALL students starting in the 6th grade.

          ——————————————————————————————–
          “All other districts in the state allow a pathway to Algebra 1 except ours.”

          The many California districts AND many more across the nation got rid of 8th grade Algebra. So that is just factually untrue that SFUSD is the ONLY district.

          ——————————————————————————————–
          “And the grades have dropped, the test scores dropped and the SAT scores have, too.”

          Aso not true. Our grades and scores have gone up per the SBAC. Please check the California State dashboard for SFUSD. Again you can’t compare the SBAC and the CST. They are completely different State tests with different content. And only 3rd – 8th and grade 11 student are tested via SBAC.

          California adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010 and the first state tests started in 2014. Here are just a few links to help you understand better.

          https://www.scoe.org/files/CST-SBAC_Comparative.pdf

          http://www.corestandards.org/other-resources/key-shifts-in-mathematics/

          https://www.berkeleyschools.net/teaching-and-learning/curriculum-standards/common-core-state-standards/

          https://edsource.org/2016/californias-students-make-progress-on-standardized-tests-new-results-show/568421
          ——————————————————————————————–

          I think this is an important debate to have. But we must refer to the most recent updated information and CA State Public Information for agreed upon foundational facts.

          • Maya K 10 months ago10 months ago

            Hi Rori, UC STEM does require Calculus see here for the slides from presentations to counselors: https://drive.google.com/file/d/10zLogIbhYiEoHgvC9wg504DwawOQaMYx/view?usp=sharing Also LA Times had an article about this: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-07-19/uc-admissions-new-diversity-record-but-harder-to-get-in "UCLA’s admission rate dropped to 10.7% this year from 14.4% last year as applications skyrocketed to 139,463 and students were more accomplished than ever. The average achievement of UCLA’s admitted California freshmen rose to a 4.5 grade-point average. Taking into account semester, quarter or trimester high school terms, students accepted to UCLA completed … Read More

            Hi Rori,

            UC STEM does require Calculus see here for the slides from presentations to counselors:

            https://drive.google.com/file/d/10zLogIbhYiEoHgvC9wg504DwawOQaMYx/view?usp=sharing

            Also LA Times had an article about this:

            https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-07-19/uc-admissions-new-diversity-record-but-harder-to-get-in

            “UCLA’s admission rate dropped to 10.7% this year from 14.4% last year as applications skyrocketed to 139,463 and students were more accomplished than ever. The average achievement of UCLA’s admitted California freshmen rose to a 4.5 grade-point average. Taking into account semester, quarter or trimester high school terms, students accepted to UCLA completed very rigorous high school curricula with an average 52 terms of college-prep courses. That included an average 23 terms of higher-level courses, such as Advanced Placement. Both are well above minimum requirements for UC eligibility.”

            Common Core does recommend a pathway to Algebra 1 in middle school here which is why every district in the state offers this except SFUSD.

            http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_Mathematics_Appendix_A.pdf
            Taking the above considerations into account, as well as the recognition that there are other methods for accomplishing these goals, the Achieve Pathways Group endorses the notion that all students who are ready for rigorous high school mathematics in eighth grade should take such courses (Algebra I or Mathematics I), and that all middle schools should offer this opportunity to their students. ”

            And finally look here to see how SFUSD is calling the compression class precalculus when UC calls it Algebra 2 + Trig. SFUSD should call this class what UC calls it not pretend it is precalculus:

            https://hs-articulation.ucop.edu/agcourselist/institution/2035