Sunday, August 22, 2021

Success In High School Math

At about the same time as San Francisco, my own school district switched from allowing students to accelerate in math as fast as they could to requiring almost every 8th grader to take "8th grade math" and every 9th grader to take "Integrated Math 1".  Here are the San Francisco results:

SFUSD does not provide grade distribution over time for higher level courses, and offers just numbers about course-takers, without breaking out the course grades, so we cannot make any definitive statement on those. Yet some hints are available from what SFUSD does provide.

Advanced Placement (AP) math course enrollment in SFUSD has stayed mostly constant, at 1,600–1,700 tests taken every year. Yet prior to the new program AP Calculus made about 70% of the tests taken with the other ~30% being AP Statistics, but under the new program the AP Calculus enrollment dropped to less than 60% while AP Statistics rose to over 40%. SFUSD administrators will tell you that “statistics today is more important than calculus” yet that is not what professors at leading colleges and STEM faculties are saying. AP Calculus is more demanding, as can be clearly seen from SFUSD’s own math “pathways” that allow taking AP Statistics under its regular pathway, but doesn’t allow for AP Calculus unless one takes a compressed (accelerated) pathway.

In other words, since the program change more students take the easier statistics and fewer take the more demanding calculus as their culminating high school math course. SFUSD does not provide a breakdown of student score on the AP exams so it is impossible to judge whether the scores on them have improved or deteriorated since the program change.

Finally, the only objective measure we have of the SFUSD new math program boils down to the state-wide Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing. Grade 3–8 SBAC tests do not include any significant algebra, so the only real way to assess SFUSD success is the 11th grade math test (which is not very demanding to begin with). Here the story is telling.

Read the whole thing.

Why do so many people who are responsible for the education of children do so much to inhibit the education of children?


Randomizer said...

From the article:

"Further, when one looks at the grade distribution of those two cohorts, one notices that cohort 0 (graduating in SY 2017–18) had a total of 2,537 students getting A or B in Algebra 1 over time, while the following cohort 1 (under the new program) had only 2,042 students getting A or B—a large 20% decline of meaningful success in that course."

I'm curious what you think of using the average grade as a measure of success. Every year is different because of the school calendar or district policies. Even last year's mix of teachers recommending students for classes changes the mix. I don't curve grades, but can shift a class average by collecting more homework or dialing up the difficulty of assessments.

One of my courses has the smartest seniors in the school. Some assume those students would all be getting A's and B's. My goal is to challenge all my students, so I adjust the difficulty to keep a class average of about 80% at the end of a quarter.

Ellen K said...

It's Educational Communism. Just as nobody is allowed to be wealthier than anyone else, neither will they be permitted to be smarter or know more math or science or history or language arts than anyone else. Everybody's going to be equal now. That's what this all boils down to.

Darren said...


I don't adjust standards in a course in order to get a certain grade outcome. I teach and assess to the standards, and let the chips fall where they may.

Can't do longitudinal analysis if the standards change every year.