Math Tracking Decisions at SFUSD

I taught all levels of math at Aptos Middle School, from remedial pre-algebra and basic arithmetic up through students two levels above the norm, finishing sophomore Geometry by the time they graduated eighth grade.

There's a lot of nuance to how you track students in math– too aggressively, and you create a moat that prevents those with disadvantaged backgrounds from ever getting access to advanced instruction, and also curbs beneficial interactions across different peer groups.

But when you try to completely destroy advanced class options, you make it impossible for students to challenge themselves with math at their level.

SFUSD is making some bad choices right now, and if they go through, they'll have an unfortunate effect on this year's high school freshmen.

Both students and alumni have been circulating a petition:

To the SFUSD Board of Education, As you know, Lowell is an alternative high school within SFUSD, and “Fiat Scientia” - let there be learning - is our school’s motto. Students choose Lowell because they feel an urge to learn. We, the alumni of Lowell, strongly oppose the one-size-fits-all requirement that all entering Lowell 9th graders be placed into the same CCSS Algebra 1 course, regardless of their actual individual proficiency and learning needs. The new flattening of personalized learning pathways for all Lowell students will have profound, grave, and limiting implications for the rich learning opportunities that attracted us to Lowell Alternative High School in the first place.


We see major problems for the math program and the science program at Lowell. Our first concern is that without universal placement tests, Lowell students will not receive math instruction suited to their own understanding and interest in math. Students who demonstrate proficiency to take 9th grade CCSS Algebra 2 (Accel), for example, will be forced to start in a class two levels below, and those placed into CCSS Geometry will start one level below their level of understanding. Generally, over 70% of students take Accel or CCSS Geometry their freshman year.

I personally think the petition is too heavily focused on the small group of largely privileged Lowell students, rather than on the potential effects of this restriction on the whole district. But regardless, I hope the district is going to come to a resolution that includes an answer to "I aced sophomore geometry last year. Why am I scheduled for Algebra I?"