June 4, 2015
A report from Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), “Held Back: Addressing Misplacement of 9th Grade Students in Bay Area School Math Classes” argued that schools disproportionately placed minority students in the ninth grade into lower-level math classes, causing them to trail behind their peers, and ultimately hurting their chances of getting into colleges. The report found that black and Latino students were far more likely to end up in algebra than white and Asian students, even though they should have been taking geometry in their first year of high school.
Dana Isaac, an attorney at LCCR, said that they regularly heard stories of these misplacement when they talked to the community. This had real, though less quantifiable, effects on students. “On a personal, mental level, being held back is being told ‘you are not good at math’ and ‘opportunities in math are not your strong suit,” Isaac said.
There is a focus on the Mountain View-Los Altos schools because there could potentially be a relationship between the quality of schooling locally and the diversity problems at nearby tech firms.
The Mountain View-Los Altos district has an “open access” policy for math class enrollment, which increases the ability of students to enter the class in theory, but Isaac believed that, in practice, these kinds of policies put the burden onto families, some who may not be familiar with the system or speak English as a first language, for researching the opportunity to place into higher level math classes, finding the right process, and opting in to the class. “It takes a certain institutional awareness to navigate the education realm,” Isaac said.
Senate Resolution 60, adopted by the California Senate in 2014, encouraged school boards to make their mathematics placement policy accessible to the public and to change their procedures to more widely consider placement tests, statewide tests, and overall grades. The resolution highlighted misplacement and particularly decried cases of minority students being the victims of such policies.
Although the report outlined legal violations, Isaac said the LCCR does not routinely sue school districts. The goal is to create lasting, regional, systemic change. Isaac wants to arrange meetings with residents and community groups in Mountain View to review the data. “Our hope is always to be able to work this out with the district and, essentially, the end goal is to make sure kids end up in the correct math classes,” she said.
Organizations mentioned/involved: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR)