Monday, June 15, 2015
California Senate Bill 359, the Mathematics Placement Act of 2015, passed with a 40-0 unanimous vote of the Senate in early June. Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), a relentless champion for fixing the problem of math misplacement, was instrumental in navigating the bill through the various legislative committees at the State Capitol. The bill must now be heard by the state Assembly.
Math misplacement is when a student successfully passes an eighth grade math course by earning an A or B grade, or passes a state assessment with proficient rating or better, yet is forced to repeat the same coursework when he or she enters high school, instead of being accurately placed in the next recommended math course in the sequence.
SB 359 responds to research by Dr. Steve Waterman, who studied nine Silicon Valley school districts in 2010 and found that 65 percent of students were not placed correctly in high school mathematics, and that black, Latino and Pacific Islander students were disproportionately misplaced. Misplacement effectively derails students from their college trajectory. Unnecessarily repeating an eighth grade course keeps them from securing enough advanced math credits in high school to be competitive applicants to many four-year colleges, including California’s state colleges and universities.
To eradicate this unfair educational practice, Silicon Valley Community Foundation sponsored SB 359, proudly partnering with Sen. Mitchell.
Although it sailed through the Senate Education Committee with a 8-0 vote, the bill stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee when the fiscal analysis reported that the bill – which would require every school district serving eighth or ninth graders to develop and implement a fair, objective and transparent mathematics placement policy – would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars to implement. The staggering sums predicted in that analysis were roundly disputed with evidence from a survey of 19 Silicon Valley school districts that have already developed new policies and procedures addressing math misplacement. The actual costs reported by these districts were from $4,400 to $8,800 annually. Currently only half of San Mateo and Santa Clara County schools have such a written policy in place.
Sen. Mitchell also pointed out that the work of teaching, evaluating, and accurately placing students is already the schools’ core responsibility. Having a policy that uses multiple, objective criteria, informs parents and students of the criteria, and checks for accurate placement will ensure that all students have an equal chance to advance.
The next big milestones for the bill: hearings before the Assembly’s Education and Appropriations committees this summer.