Challenging Math Misplacement in Silicon Valley

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (“LCCR”) continues to forge ahead to ensure that all high school students have access to college preparatory mathematics classes and avoid being held back due to nonexistent or inappropriate math placement policies within school districts. Since the release of our Held Back report in 2013 bringing attention to the problem of 9th grade students, particularly African-American, Latino and Filipino students, being improperly placed in Algebra I classes, despite having passed the class in 8th grade and/or having met or exceeded state standards, LCCR has continued to gather information and data regarding the prevalence of math misplacement in districts across Silicon Valley. AA students-in-lab

We recently shared that our new and unfolding data analysis for the Mountain View Los Altos High School District (MVLA) is particularly concerning because it appears the District’s 24% Hispanic and 2% African-American students are disproportionately enrolled in lower-level math classes in the 9th grade, even when their grades and test scores are comparable to those of white students. As stated in our Opinion Editorial that ran on June 5, 2015 in the Mountain View Voice, districts in the technology hotbed of Silicon Valley should be leading the way in ensuring transparent and objective math placement policies rather than maintaining practices that disadvantage students as they compete for admission to California state colleges and universities and ultimately for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs. Although an earlier article in the Mountain View Voice about LCCR’s claims of racial bias and discrimination in MVLA’s math placement process mistakenly attributed our MVLA findings to data contained in our 2013 Held Back report, our data regarding current disparities in math placement in MVLA comes directly from the district’s response to our California Public Records Act requests.

LCCR is cautiously optimistic about the response provided by the District’s Associate Superintendent Brigitte Sarraf, who committed to review the transcripts of students over the last four years. We applaud MVLA for committing to undergo this effort and hope that the District will finally adopt and implement an objective and transparent math placement policy that will afford all students the opportunity to take high level math classes in preparation for college.

Yet, we remain deeply concerned by Ms. Sarraf’s statement that, of the roughly 1,000 Latino and African-American students’ records she has looked at thus far, she has found “only 27 students whose placement in algebra was questionable and probably could have been reviewed.” One misplaced student is one too many!

LCCR is prepared to move forward with a civil rights complaint to the United States Department of Education detailing our research and findings if MVLA does not immediately redress this significant problem by implementing an objective and transparent math placement policy that provides all students with an opportunity to succeed.