SFUSD Leaders Work With Researchers to Examine Math Programming

Posted Date

San Francisco (March 20, 2023) - San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) leaders are using new research findings, including research by Stanford University Graduate School of Education, to help understand the impact of the 2014 Math Course Sequence Policy.

This policy placed all ninth graders into Common Core Algebra 1 as the district implemented the new Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM). Part of the rationale for this policy change was that the adoption of the CCSSM included one additional year of math coursework, which now requires compression or acceleration options to reach AP Calculus by 12th grade. SFUSD placed the various acceleration options in high school, including: Intensive Summer Geometry, dual enrollment in Algebra 1 and Geometry in 9th grade, dual enrollment in Geometry and Algebra II in 10th grade, and an 11th grade course that is inclusive of Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus. 

“We are in the process of collecting evidence to inform needed improvements in mathematics programming,” SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne said. “This research from Stanford helps us know how our math programming is influencing the courses taken by San Francisco students. We look forward to working with researchers, school sites, educators, labor partners, and community members as we collect evidence for examining our math program.” 

More recently, the SF Board of Education passed goals and guardrails to guide the work of the district, schools, and staff over the next five years. In the school years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024, SFUSD is focused on improving its English Language Arts programming to support its goals in reading. To reach the district’s goal in mathematics, SFUSD has been examining evidence about the strengths and challenges in the district’s mathematics policies and programming. 

SFUSD leaders have been working closely with Stanford University Graduate School of Education Professor Thomas Dee and his team of doctoral students Elizabeth Huffaker and Sarah Novicoff to examine the current design in mathematics course pathways for SFUSD students. Today, Professor Dee and his colleagues published a working paper examining students’ course-taking patterns since the adoption of SFUSD’s mathematics policy in 2014. These findings along with other forms of evidence will help SFUSD leaders make improvements to their math program.

The findings from this study include: 

  • After the policy was implemented, there were many changes in course taking patterns. Some notable patterns were:
    • Decrease in math tracking in 9th and 10th grades
    • Increase in students taking AP Statistics courses
    • Modest increase in students taking any math course in 12th grade
    • A slight increase in African American students taking Pre-Calculus courses
    • Initial decrease in students taking AP Calculus, which has since rebounded
  • With the multiple ways that students can accelerate, there are more students taking AP math courses.
  • Racial / ethnic gaps in student enrollment in advanced math continue to persist.

SFUSD has partnerships with a number of universities and research institutions including UC Berkeley, WestEd, SERP, UCSF and Stanford University. The research with Professor Dee is a proactive partnership working on research to help SFUSD leaders ensure that whatever decisions they make are informed by research along with other evidence and input.

While this research shows that our current math programming is making some progress, it also shows areas where the program could improve. The district’s next steps are to:

  • Conduct an audit of our written and taught math program
  • Continue to examine academic outcomes for evidence of impact
  • Examine the feasibility of increasing opportunities to accelerate in high school
  • Continue to partner with researchers to study and improve math programs
  • Utilize multiple data points to inform the supports needed for students 

“We know our math programming is an important pillar for advancing toward our district goals,” SFUSD Head of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Nicole Priestly said. “And, we see some strengths and some things we need to improve moving forward, especially to center our most underserved students. Research also shows that students who complete a fourth year math course in their senior year are far more likely to find success in college, which SFUSD encouraged before the 2014 policy.  We are committed to bringing excellence to this area of teaching and learning.”

SFUSD’s graduation requirements correspond to the University of California’s A–G requirements, which include completing three years of math during high school. The first three years of high school math in the Common Core’s traditional sequence are Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2. 

Any course beyond Algebra 2 surpasses the A–G requirements. In SFUSD, students have many options for a fourth year of math, including Pre-Calculus, Probability and Statistics, AP Calculus and AP Statistics.