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Why four years of high school math matters

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There’s been a 10.4 percent increase from the year prior in the number of San Francisco high school students who are taking courses beyond Algebra 2. (Courtesy photo)

If your child is enrolled in a public school in San Francisco, their math classes will probably seem very different than how you learned math in school.

As one parent recently shared, when she was in high school there was always one way to solve a math problem. The way her son experiences math at his school, she explained, teaches him to go much more in depth and gets her son to think critically.

What’s great about this change, the parent emphasized, is that now all San Francisco Unified School District students can make sense of rigorous mathematics in ways that are creative, interactive and relevant in the diverse classrooms where they learn.

I was happy to hear this parent’s experience and hope her son’s experience reflects that of many others too. Several years ago, the introduction of new Common Core State Standards gave SFUSD a unique opportunity to define a more coherent, focused and rigorous math curriculum.

The new SFUSD Math Core Curriculum uses the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to respond to our understanding of how the brain works and provide multiple pathways for each learner to access content and experience success.

As part of this shift in math, in 2014 the Board of Education adopted the secondary course sequence for high school math, which provides a thoughtful progression of content from algebra, geometry and statistics by offering different course-taking options.

The first three years of high school math in the Common Core’s traditional sequence are Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2. In SFUSD, students have many options for a fourth year of math, including Pre-Calculus, AP Calculus and AP Statistics.

For the first time, we now have data to illustrate exactly how this new course sequence has supported students in their learning. I’m so excited to see that through this shift in math, more high school students are taking higher level math classes than ever before, and the students who are taking those classes are more diverse than ever before.

In fact, there are an additional 456 students — a 10.4 percent increase from the year prior — who are taking courses beyond Algebra 2 in the 2018-19 school year. There are also more African American, Latino, Filipino, Pacific Islander and white students taking higher level math courses. Additionally, there are more students with an Individual Education Program (IEP) and students who qualify for free and reduced price lunches in these higher level courses.

The good news doesn’t stop there. The number of students taking AP math courses has also increased in the past two years.

What we can take away from these data is that not only do all students have access to higher level math, but they are taking advantage of the opportunity for more learning. Research shows that students who complete a fourth year math course in their senior year are far more likely to find success in college. With these data, we know that more SFUSD students than ever are graduating ready for college and a career.

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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