The State of California is set to release a new framework for math instruction later this year, and it likely will contain a controversial recommendation to school districts.
School districts are trying to make sure their students are prepared to enter STEM careers as they move from high school to college, but the problem is too many students, especially those from under-represented groups are failing math.
State education leaders think the solution may be to delay higher-level math instruction until students are older.
The Lucia Mar Unified School District did a comprehensive study in 2019 looking back at data from the previous 5 years, and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Hillery Dixon says it was clear the district had some work to do.
"We've made some good strides after analyzing that to say that we really need to get kids at or above grade level when they start. And I'm proud to say that we're doing that this year," said Dixon.
School districts are now being encouraged to delay teaching algebra until students are in high school. Many accelerated students take geometry and algebra 1 in middle school. But that slow start may mean students will have trouble getting into top colleges.
Matthew Bornhorst is a third-year aerospace engineering student at Cal Poly, he credits his ability to get into the university to his 4.35 high school GPA and a full two years of advanced placement calculus classes, something he wouldn't have been able to do if he didn't take geometry and algebra 1 in middle school.
"I think I was definitely at an advantage," said Bornhorst. "So when I was coming in here, I was able to jump into calculus 3 and 4 so I got half of the calculus classes I needed to take here out of the way."
The state and school districts are in a bit of a catch-22, as the students most often failing math are from under-represented groups, but delaying math instruction to help them catch up means they will not be competitive when it comes to getting accepted to college.
"Yeah, I would definitely say that because I did go to a private, college preparatory academy I was able to access those classes on campus, where a lot of my friends had to go to community college to access those classes at the same level that I was able to," said Bornhorst.
Delaying algebra 1 is a core concept of this new framework set to be released later this year, but the framework is a set of non-binding recommendations for districts. Dixon says Lucia Mar will look at those recommendations and dig into local data to see what will be best for students moving forward.
"Once the state finalizes it, then we'll be working with our math teachers and administrators and others to see what parts we want to implement and what parts we don't," said Dixon.
Dixon is hoping the district can use the new recommendations to help all students.
"Should we move toward everybody starts algebra 1 in 9th grade in future years, what we will then look to do is to see what types of on-ramps toward acceleration we'd be able to implement," said Dixon.
Once the state's new framework is finalized, administrators say the next step will be to dig into the document and its recommendations. It will likely be at least a year before any significant changes are made.