The San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District’s recent proposal to change the sixth grade math curriculum has prompted much concern in the community. Many agree that improvements must be made, but disagree on how to design a curriculum that will best serve all the district’s students and deliver equitable results.
The district claims that learning losses associated with the pandemic and an inability to assess current fifth graders prevents it from placing students into typical sixth grade math pathways. As a result, they propose placing all sixth graders into a single heterogeneous math class and eliminating accelerated math. Such an approach, the district contends, will result in greater equity as, historically, the accelerated math program has lacked diversity. The failure to assess fifth graders, however, gives us an opportunity to retain and diversify the program. The district could give any fifth grader currently meeting standards the choice of enrolling in accelerated math. This would eliminate selection and testing bias that functioned as barriers to accessing the program in the past.
The proposed plan is fundamentally flawed because it treats the symptom of a problem rather than the root problem. A study by Child Trends Hispanic Institute has found that among kindergarteners only a three-month achievement gap exists between Latinx children and their white peers. Why is the district allowing this gap to widen year after year? Rather than wait until middle school to bridge it, the district should formulate a strategic plan that will close it early in elementary education. Such an approach would allow the district to retain accelerated math for those students ready to enroll this fall, as well as diversify the pipeline of students entering the program in the future.