Zachary Yeates casts his ballot at a polling site at the California Museum in Sacramento on Nov. 7, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

By Joe Hong | CALMatters

(CALMATTERS) – While the controversial updates to the California Mathematics Framework remain in limbo, a new study by Stanford University researchers released on Monday bolstered one of the main criticisms of the proposed changes. 

A quick refresher: In 2018, the California Department of Education started the process of updating its guidelines for teaching math in K-12 public schools. One of the most contentious aspects of the revisions was the recommendation that all students start high school in Algebra I, infuriating parents of high-achieving students who sought higher-level math courses to increase their chances of attending prestigious universities.

The authors of the proposed framework pointed to San Francisco Unified, where the district has required all ninth graders to take Algebra I since 2014, as an example of why this could help high-needs students, such as Black and Latino students as well as those from low-income families. CalMatters reported in 2021 that this policy actually coincided with a drop in test scores for high-needs students. 

The Stanford study adds to those findings:

  • According to the researchers, enrollment in Advanced Placement math courses dropped by 15%, “driven by declines in AP Calculus and among Asian/Pacific-Islander students” immediately following the change in policy.
  • In following years, more students tested into geometry in ninth grade or took geometry over the summer after ninth grade, resulting in subsequent increases in enrollment for advanced math classes.
  • But racial and ethnic gaps persist: Black and Latino students are still less likely to enroll in AP Calculus and AP Statistics by their senior year, and some of the gaps have grown since the policy change.

Scott Roark, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education, said there’s currently no timeline for the State Board of Education to vote on the revisions to the new math framework. He said state officials are still reviewing and considering the “hundreds of suggested edits” it received during the public comment period in the past two years.