Calif. Districts to Tweak Placement Policies for Accelerated Math

By Liana Loewus — December 17, 2015 2 min read
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Under a new California law, districts must put into place “fair, objective, and transparent” placement policies for 9th grade math classes by the beginning of the next school year.

Previous placement policies have often been applied unevenly, and in many cases districts left such decisions up to individual teachers. “The new law was written to ensure that all students face the same objective criteria for determining the path to calculus,” reports the education news site EdSource.

Across the country, advanced classes tend to be whiter and wealthier than the schools they are in as a whole.

Starting next year in California, policies for determining 9th grade placement must take multiple “objective academic measures” of performance into account, such as statewide math assessments, placement tests, assignments, and grades, the law says.

During the first month of the school year, districts must check to make sure students have been placed properly. They must also look at placement data annually to ensure students are not being held back from advanced work disproportionately by race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic background. And they have to offer parents who question a student’s placement “clear and timely recourse.”

The legislation was sponsored by the nonprofit Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Because of “math misplacement,” the group wrote on its website, students have been “frequently derailed from being able to complete all the courses they need to be competitive applicants for California colleges and universities during four years of high school.” The new law aims to correct that.

Acceleration and the Common Core

It’s unclear how much of an effect the law will have, especially since the Common Core State Standards are also causing upheaval around how and when to put students in advanced math classes.

Under the common core, which California has adopted and is implementing, Algebra I is designated a high school math course—so most students are expected to take it in 9th grade. It’s also a much tougher course than Algebra I has been historically, as I wrote in June. Algebra I now looks a bit more like Algebra 2 did previously.

For that reason, some say fewer students may end up taking an accelerated path in early high school. San Francisco recently began requiring that all 9th graders take Algebra I. Previously, the district required students to take Algebra I in 8th grade (as did all of California for many years).

And as EdSource notes, the new law applies only in 9th grade, so acceleration decisions made in middle school and later in high school won’t be bound by the same mandates.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.