Oakland Tribune Editorial: Promote kids based on test scores, not skin color
Here's a law we should not need, especially here in the Bay Area. But we do. Now. Yesterday, really, but we'll settle for now.
SB359 will require a set of objective measures like test scores and grades to determine whether students need to repeat eighth-grade math.
That's about it. Obvious, right? But thanks to groundbreaking work by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Noyce Foundation and others, we know it's not happening.
Many students are forced to repeat Algebra 1 in ninth grade instead of advancing to geometry even if they've gotten B's in algebra or tested proficient or even advanced on state exams. This is true across racial and gender lines -- but guess what? A far higher proportion of black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander students are failing to advance to the next level when students with similar performance are moving on.
The Pathways study in 2010 funded by Noyce found 60 percent of students who repeated algebra in ninth grade had scored "proficient" or "advanced" in the California Standards Test in Algebra the previous year. More than half of African-American students took algebra in eighth grade, but fewer than 18 percent went on to geometry in ninth. Numbers for Latinos were similar, and they are dramatically lower than those of white and Asian-American students.
Connect the dots. Why are those pools of job seekers at companies like Google and Apple so low in minority applicants? Why are there so few blacks and Latinos pursuing a STEM education to work in technology industries?
For that matter, why are there too few kids of all ethnicities aiming for the technology workforce?
Here's one reason: If kids get behind in ninth grade, they won't have time to get through the rigorous courses that colleges expect a math or science major to have taken. And if they're held back despite getting good test scores and grades, how will they stay motivated to keep striving? Would you?
Teachers who look at the same scores and advise kids differently probably feel they have good reason, and studies have found no evidence of conscious racism. There are many complicating factors -- different content from school to school in what's billed as eighth-grade algebra, for example, and grade inflation that may award B's to hardworking kids who really don't get the math.
But there's no denying the loss of opportunity for students held back despite objectively achieving proficiency with the material. For many, if not most, a door will have closed.
The bill carried by Sen. Holly Mitchell and sponsored by the Community Foundation calls for setting up thoughtful, objective standards for passing eighth-grade math, allowing opportunities for students and parents to challenge placement and tracking kids' achievement to validate the measures they set.
Who could argue with that?
The Legislature needs to approve SB359.