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SFUSD makes the grade in its new approach to math

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SFUSD’s new approach to teaching math is yielding results. An independent research firm found SFUSD eighth graders are testing ahead of other school districts in math. (Courtesy photo)

A few years ago, the San Francisco Unified School District decided to make some big changes in how we teach math here in San Francisco.

Here’s why: Far too many children across the U.S. and here in San Francisco were graduating with limited understanding of math.

So, mathematicians, business industry leaders and teachers came together to reinvent how math is taught.

They read through scores of studies from major universities that showed ways to teach math that get the best results down the line. They studied how math is taught in countries where students do well on international tests. They listened to engineers and computer programmers talk about what kind of math they use every day.

The result was a set of recommendations called the Common Core. SFUSD learned from and built on the well-researched recommendations from these experts.

Then, we began changing how we teach math. It hasn’t been easy but our early analysis is showing great proof that students are benefiting from the changes we’ve been making.


We recently looked at how many students had to retake Algebra 1 since changing our approach. What we found was striking: students who took Common Core Algebra 1 in ninth grade were 80 percent less likely to have to repeat the course than students who took the previous Algebra 1 course in eighth grade.

In stark terms, three years ago most SFUSD students took Algebra 1 in eighth grade and nearly half of all students who took the course had to retake it. Now, all students take Common Core Algebra 1 in ninth grade and fewer than 10 percent have had to retake the course.

This news comes on the heels of a report from an independent research firm, SRI International, about our Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Learning Initiative. Their analysis showed that SFUSD’s eighth grade students were testing ahead of peers in other school districts in math.


The changes we’ve made to our math curriculum are dramatically increasing student comprehension and mastery of Algebra.

That’s because students start building a thoughtful progression of math concepts, including Algebra fundamentals, in early grades. Then, in their first year of high school they are ready to move to Algebra 1.

By concentrating on a clear set of math skills and concepts, the Common Core Math program provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to be prepared for math in college, career and life.

Every child wants to learn and every child can learn. It’s up to us to find ways to make sure they do learn. I’m happy to say that we seem to be headed in the right direction.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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