Group claims race bias in Math

Original appeared in the Daily Post – page 1 and page 2

by ANGELA RUGGIERO

An advocacy group claims the
Mountain View-Los Altos High School
District disproportionally enrolls Hispanic
and black students in lower-level
math classes during their freshman
year. But the school district superintendent
says that’s just not the case.
The Lawyers Committee for Civil
Rights of San Francisco said it gathered
data from the school district through a
public records act request and found a
disproportionate number of blacks and
Hispanics are placed in lower-level
math classes their freshman year, despite
being on par with white students.
Hispanics comprise 24% of the students
in the districts and blacks represent
2%.
The committee conducted a
study last year titled “Held Back”
that analyzed various school districts
throughout the Bay Area around the issue of minorities in lower-level math
classes. It found that many freshman “are being forced
off the college-readiness path on the fi rst day of high
school,” because they are being improperly placed
into algebra, despite having passed the class in 8th
grade or passed the state standardized test. The report
states that these placement decisions impact minority
students, and those responsible for math placement
“also face legal liability.”
Dana Isaac, an attorney with the committee, told
the Post yesterday that the analysis the committee did
on the Mountain View-Los Altos district involved
standardized test scores and math class enrollment
data. When asked if Isaac could provide the Post with
this data that showed the disproportionate numbers,
she said she would have to get back to the newspaper.
Lawsuit next?
Asked if the committee was considering a lawsuit
against the school district, Isaac said she couldn’t answer
the question.
But school Superintendent Barry Groves told the
Post yesterday that the way students are placed in
math classes is through a system called “open access,”
which means it’s ultimately up to the student
and their parents to decide which classes to take. If,
for example, a child took algebra in the 8th grade and
didn’t do well, but still wanted to take geometry their
freshman year of high school, they could. Groves said
by comparison, some other districts might require a
recommendation from a teacher to be placed into the
next level of math.
Minority achievement gap shrinking
Groves acknowledged that there is a minority
achievement gap in the district — a gap between
high-performing kids and lower-performing minority
students — but in the last decade, the gap has gotten
smaller.
In a 10-year span from 2003 and 2013, Groves said
that Hispanic students’ test scores have greatly improved.
In 2003 for example at Los Altos High, Hispanic
student’s Academic Performance Index scores
was 541 (out of 1,000), but in 2013, the score grew to
713, according to district data.
In 2003, there were just 43 Hispanic students who
enrolled in Advanced Placement classes at Los Altos
High, but in 2013 that number was 189. The school
has a population of about 1,900 students, 24% of
which are Hispanic.
According to state data, Hispanic students district wide
scored 731 in 2013. Of the 40 black students
who took the test district wide, they scored a 791.
White students scored 909, and Asian students in the
district scored 939 that same year.
Groves said that in the 2013-14 school year, there
weren’t many freshman students that were taking
lower-grade math anyway. Only 14% of students district wide
were enrolled in algebra, 55% were in geometry
and 20% were in algebra 2 (typically a class
for sophomores or higher).
“So from my perspective, I don’t believe that it’s
true,” Groves said, referring to the claim of disproportionality.