More freshmen are failing math in the Santa Rosa school district
Less than a year after Santa Rosa school board trustees approved a college-preparatory course requirement for high school students to graduate, the district found more freshmen are failing mathematics.
About 21 percent of ninth-graders earned an F in math, an increase of nearly 7-percentage points compared with freshmen the previous year. The district rolled out a more rigorous course called Math 1, which integrates algebra and geometry and meets requirements to qualify for state university systems. The course change also reflects the district’s shift toward heterogeneous grouping, or classes with students of mixed-ability.
“With a new implementation, there usually is a dip,” said Anna-Marie Guzman, the district’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
Last April, the school board adopted the more rigorous graduation requirement, starting with this year’s freshmen, amid a crowd of Latino students and families, who urged the district to squash its two-track system that channeled high school students into either a university-bound courseload or classes that would qualify them for vocational and community college. They argued the district would level the playing field for minorities by requiring students to complete the so-called A-G courses, which cover seven different subjects, including history, math and lab sciences, that are needed to get into the state’s public universities.
However, some teachers, counselors and students have criticized the district, saying it rushed to implement the college-prep course requirement without putting in place enough supportive services.
District officials defended the decision as a way to be more inclusive, desegregate students and better prepare them for an evolving world.
Jenni Klose, the school board president, said the decision to move to college preparatory courses was about civil rights. The previous system negatively affected students of color, she said.
In 2017, 15.8 percent of Latino graduates in the district had completed college-preparatory courses, compared with 40.5 percent of white students. The gap was wider than state and county figures.
“The idea of waiting when you’re dealing with a civil rights issue didn’t weigh right with me, and ultimately with the board as a whole,” Klose said at a meeting earlier this month.
Additionally, a state law passed last fall makes it impractical for courses to be anything but A-G, Klose said.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown last September signed into law AB 2735, which prohibits English-language learners from being denied enrollment into core courses required for high school graduation or college admission.
More than half of California school districts have made the move to college preparatory classes for all, according to district officials.
Nevertheless, some teachers say the transition has been difficult and more students are struggling. They’ve asked for smaller counselor-to-student ratios, more classroom aides, smaller class sizes and more tutors.
“Level of rigor is a real concern. We would like our college prep classes to actually prepare our kids for college,” said Margie Bradylong, math department chair at Maria Carrillo High School.
Will Lyon, the teachers union president, said faculty aren’t only concerned with F grades, but with Ds, too. While they’re still a passing grade, Ds also take an emotional toll on students, Lyon said.
Last school year, 28.4 percent of freshman had a D or F in math. This year the rate was 38.3 percent.
“These kids have souls. You’re telling them that they’re almost a failure,” Lyon said at a board meeting last month.