Mitchell bill to protect students from school math misplacement clears first hurdle

April 16, 2015

SACRAMENTO, CA —A measure to protect students from being relegated to less challenging mathematics classes – even though they meet the academic requirements for those courses – survived the scrutiny of its first legislative committee and has moved closer to becoming state law.

SB 359 authored by Senator Holly J. Mitchell passed out of the State Senate’s Education Committee unanimously, garnering bipartisan support.  The bill requires public school districts to develop and adhere to performance and assessment-based standards for assigning youths to math courses, a first step in remedying the growing problem of “math misplacement,” which can impede a capable student’s progress both in learning math and advancing toward higher education and career goals.

A 2010 Noyce Foundation Pathways study had found that African American and Latino students, in particular, were improperly held back in nine Bay Area school districts despite having demonstrated proficiency on state standardized math tests.

“Kids deserve the best shot we can give them at success,” said Senator Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). “Yet too many students who are working hard to build the skills they need to be successful in our economy are being prevented from doing so.”

While California increasingly relies on jobs and revenue from its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries, that sector depends on the state to provide a trained workforce. Yet a 2014 Brookings Institution report showed that there are not enough qualified workers. African Americans and Latinos hold fewer than four percent of the jobs at the six largest Silicon Valley tech companies. Given that nearly 60 percent of California's children belong to those ethnic groups, while technology jobs are projected to grow by 22 percent in the state over the next five years, opening a career pipeline for children of color into STEM careers is crucial for both them and the state.

“California and its economy can no longer afford to allow successful students, particularly those of color, to be unnecessarily held back in math due to a lack of fair, transparent and objective math placement policies in school districts,” said Dr. Emmett Carson, CEO and President of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, sponsor of SB 359.

With the link between math misplacement, technology worker shortages and persistent poverty now clearly visible, California cannot afford to allow students who are demonstrating they can overcome challenges in their backgrounds to lose earned places in high school mathematics.