Palo Alto Unified sued over how it places students in math lanes | November 12, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 12, 2021

Palo Alto Unified sued over how it places students in math lanes

Lawsuit claims district denies students opportunities, particularly disadvantaging girls

by Zoe Morgan

The Palo Alto Unified School District is facing a lawsuit that alleges the district's math-placement process improperly stops students from taking more advanced classes and particularly disadvantages girls.

The lawsuit claims that the district discourages and prevents students from taking math classes in which they would be able to succeed, stating that the district replaces legal requirements for math placement with its "own moral judgment about how parents should be raising their children."

"PAUSD intentionally and systematically targets talented math students and denies them earned opportunities to be exceptional. ... PAUSD's overriding message is a PAUSD value judgment that parents push students too hard," the lawsuit states.

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin declined to comment for this article, and the district did not provide a copy of its legal response to the suit.

Math instruction has long been a contentious topic in the school district. In recent years, Palo Alto Unified has reviewed and changed its math program, with a particular focus on reducing gaps in achievement between students, including an attempt to increase the performance of low-income students and students of color.

The current lawsuit was filed in July by Edith Cohen, Xin Li, Yiyi Zeng and Marek Alboszta. Cohen, Li and Zeng are all identified as Palo Alto homeowners with children. Cohen has had children in the Palo Alto Unified School District since 2003, according to the suit, while Li and Zeng are simply identified as having school-age children. Alboszta is listed as a "Palo Alto patent agent."

According to the petitioners, the district doesn't have a policy that meets the requirements of the Math Placement Act, passed by the California legislature in 2015, and the procedures it does use differ from those it lists online.

The lawsuit claims that the district's ninth grade math placement is based only on the student's eighth grade math class results, despite the district stating that it considers more factors.

The only chance students have to advance beyond the normal sequence of courses is at the end of fifth and sixth grade, when students can take "validation tests" to skip the next grade level in math, according to the suit.

Those tests are made up of both a standardized exam and one created by the district, the lawsuit states, going on to claim that the district-created portion "is not calibrated, has highly variable results, includes material that is far beyond the scope of the grade level students are looking to skip, is not objectively scored and lacks all transparency."

"Their high school placement and all opportunities to excel in math are based on bogus tests designed so that students fail and are railroaded two to three years before they start high school," the suit states.

In 2019, the school district redesigned its middle school math program, with the goal of providing all middle schoolers a pathway to take geometry their freshman year of high school.

The district's middle school math sequence now typically involves finishing algebra 8 by the end of eighth grade, though passing the validation tests allows students to skip one grade level and complete geometry in eighth grade.

According to a middle school math FAQ posted on Palo Alto Unified's website, the district acknowledges that "a very large percentage" of students are above grade level in math, while also focusing its attention on closing the achievement gap.

"Experts in mathematics education agree that tracking (or laning) students early in their education limits both high and low performing students, which ultimately leads to lower achievement overall," the district's FAQ states. "Heterogeneous classes result in a deeper understanding of mathematics for the high achieving students, while simultaneously raising the achievement of struggling students."

The lawsuit goes on to claim that the validation tests disadvantage girls. According to the suit, in the past two years, 127 middle school boys have been allowed to accelerate their math placement, but only 35 girls.

Because the district offers few opportunities to advance in math, the suit states that many students choose to take accredited math classes outside of the district. However, the petitioners claim that the district "repeatedly denies" student requests to skip courses they have already taken outside of the district.

Forcing students to take classes they have already mastered causes them to lose interest in math and hinders their ability to attend highly selective schools, according to the lawsuit.

"PAUSD's math placement causes substantial and immediate harm to its students starting in middle school and continuing through high school and college," the suit states. "Students stuck in math classes they have already mastered are bored and quickly lose interest in excelling in math."

Email Staff Writer Zoe Morgan at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by Allison
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2021 at 6:49 pm

Allison is a registered user.

Oh paaaa=leeze!

This lawsuit is bogus. So many kids reach the upper levels of the math lane, no problem. Even the average students in 7th and 8th grade can end up just requesting to take the bridge class over the summer and voila, in the advanced class! Even if they really shouldn't be. (I know because my child did just that.) The schools make it really easy to go up a lane if the student/parents wants that. Why is everyone so sue happy?????


Posted by HS & MS Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Nov 5, 2021 at 7:47 am

HS & MS Parent is a registered user.

The suit describes our exact experience (e.g., bogus test) in both middle school and high school. Whether or not the suit has merit I leave to the courts, but I support the suit as I suspect this has been happening for a while and families' options have been exhausted.


Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2021 at 9:26 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Frivolous lawsuits waste time, money and judicial resources. As a former PAUSD student and parent, I'll leave this up to the courts to decide if this suit has merit. It's not hard to read between the lines how I really feel.


Posted by Ronnie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 5, 2021 at 10:00 am

Ronnie is a registered user.

Have to admit I have never seen the validation test. But 127 boys and only 35 girls? Seriously this looks upsetting to me. If that’s the case 20 years down the road we will still be talking about equity in workplace…This is sad….


Posted by Member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2021 at 10:38 am

Member is a registered user.

Thank you to the parents who took this step! This has been our experience at PAUSD as well. The process is shrouded in secrecy, with no explanation of test results. The disparities in results will continue as frustrated parents turn to private resources to challenge their kids in math.


Posted by Middle School Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2021 at 11:01 am

Middle School Parent is a registered user.

This is my daughters experience (passed the standardized validation/didn't pass the subjective validation). She is now beyond bored in her 6th grade math class and gets so frustrated at the low level/repeat of 5th grade math, that she is no longer interested in the subject.


Posted by EYC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2021 at 11:59 am

EYC is a registered user.

My kid is in Paly now. There are different math lanes to serve different levels in Paly. I feel like there are some families adding too much emphasis in stem classes. The math & stem classes are already very stressful for ordinary and majority students because there are some students like to take the same math class ahead of time like summer time. So that they are get an easy A grade in the class.

Just Chill out! Do something fun when the students have free time. Focus in mental wellness is more important. Don't waste time and money in this bogus lawsuit.


Posted by Allison
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Allison is a registered user.

EYC, exactly.

Additionally, the high school/middle schools should provide more advanced classes in English. There is so much EMPHASIS on math in the district. Not every child wants to be in STEM or pursue careers that involve math. The right brain thinkers in this district do not get as many opportunities in the school district to take higher level classes. And the messaging is that the only subject in school that is important is MATH. Why is that? It gives children who are below average/average in math insecurities about their intelligence. I have seen it.


Posted by Sammy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 5, 2021 at 1:04 pm

Sammy is a registered user.

Many of your comments are so correct! These lawsuits are such a waste of money, time and comes from our tax payer's money.

If only PAUSD had in place proper and fair placement options, these lawsuits will not be slapped on the face of the district! In the last 15 years in this school district, I have not heard one lawsuit in regards to math placements that the school has won.

Also, just fyi, every year, there are a handful of students who are allowed to accelerate into a higher math class (through backdoors only open to some) despite having been unsuccessful in the placement tests.

Unfair from a number of angles!


Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2021 at 1:42 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

Folks following education have known for a long time that PAUSD artificially holds back kids in math. Compared to other school districts around us the evidence is crystal clear. What I didn't realize is that it impacts girls more than boys. I guess it that makes sense.

We have among the smartest and most caring families a district could hope to find. The amount of middle-schoolers doing math outside of PAUSD is really disturbing. Let's fix that by giving kids what they need IN school.

For once, could PAUSD do the right thing before being forced to!


Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 5, 2021 at 1:43 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

As a former math teacher, I am just amazed at the lawsuit. I wonder if any of those who have put forth the lawsuit ever taught math. In my experience, students who say they are 'bored' are not always bored. Many times it is that they don't want others to realize they do not understand. Again not all 'bored' students are bored.
The notion of having PAUSD allow outside additional classes to count really goes against the equity for all. Not everyone can afford the cost of these incremental classes, nor do many students want to have so much pressure to take classes outside of their school schedule.
My biggest fear is that parents are putting so much stress and pressure on their children to get into that golden school of their dreams with a focus on math and STEM. Why not let kids focus on learning more emotional intelligence so when they get to college and beyond, they will thrive.
Please don't use the boys versus girls card. As a former math teacher, sorry we don't look and say, let's allow the boys to progress. It all has to do with if the students possess the basic skills needed to move to the particular level; it is not a subjective decision. It is based on analysis of the skills needed since math is building blocks.
I would ask those parents who filed the lawsuit and/or agree with the lawsuit, to have their child take the exam to get into private high schools that are the same caliber as Paly and Gunn. See where they land in the testing (ISEE test).
Realize as math teachers, we see the students as they are and have high expectations of the students versus many parents seeing what they envision their children to be.
You can look at the acceptance rates of high quality colleges, my son is at an amazing university and he was on the track the Paly track with no supplemental classes. It all works out. Let your child learn more than math and STEM - encourage them to learn about talking and working with others and how to make friends.


Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2021 at 1:53 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

I would ask commenters to stop echoing the damaging stereotype that kids advanced in math are good at the 'expense' of socialization or their childhood. It isn't true, and it's something that you would never say about football, dance, music, or whatever. As it regards other academic skills, the evidence is clear that development is highly cross-correlative and achievement in one domain reinforces, rather than competes, with others.


Posted by Morgan
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 5, 2021 at 2:08 pm

Morgan is a registered user.

Wonder why the Weekly isn't covering the 6 Gunn students filing claims of being bullied (including racial epithets) and the school essentially ignoring them, to the point that the parents are now looking at filing lawsuits.

Frontpage of today's PA Post and also discussed in closed session last Tuesday by the board.


Posted by Sammy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 5, 2021 at 5:49 pm

Sammy is a registered user.

@ Allison - you are right about your experience.
But , firstly, lanes exist no more.
Secondly, and more importantly, this lawsuit is about placement into the right math class. For example, in 9 th grade if a student shows mastery in Geometry, they should NOT be made to repeat it. [this is JUST an example - don't tear me to bits about it!]

To your second post, you are absolutely right about not enough challenging English classes offered. My child took composition classes during summer! You should bring it up in the board meetings. Being silent means everything is fine.
I do have to point out that we have an awesome music, graphic arts, visual arts program at Gunn, which definitely is great for the right brain thinkers.

It’s really sad that children who are not into math are not being supported by the school. Instead they are feeling any less. That is wrong!

I have also heard how students who are interested in math and show high proficiency / are good in academics are called names and that those are definitely not the popular kids ( heard it from students)! That is equally wrong!


Posted by Sammy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 5, 2021 at 6:06 pm

Sammy is a registered user.

[Post removed; successive posts from same person are not permitted.]


Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 5, 2021 at 8:09 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

@cmarg

I find your message to be propagating streotypes and disrespectful of other people experiences and values. Some humilty and respect are due here.

1.
It is really great that your kid did track and field and then got into a good university. Did you recognize their hidden priviliges? Sports scholarship? Legacy? access to after school sports/clubs enabled by a mother with free time? The boost in admission chances due to (perhaps) just not being born Asian?

2.
Recognize that your kid followed a path that suited their passions (and perhaps priviliges). Kudos to them. But please be respectful of students that seek other paths.

You are citing "equity" as a reason to block kids from advancing in mathematics. Blocked when at school and "punished" for seeking to learn outside of school. You are going as far as sending them to a private school (!) simply for asking for options that public school districts with half the funding of PAUSD offer to all their students.

I am sorry -- but I find this so hypocritical -- coming from a parent of a supposedly gifted runner. How would you feel if your kid was prohibited from running faster than the 20% percentile when at school -- certainly not exceed 12 minute miles. And frawned upon for developing their athletic skills after school as well. Because it is not "equitable"?

Running turned out to be be your kid's passion and somehow also their path to a good college (an idiosyncrasy of the US higher education system). For other students, for many students, the passion and key to a better future is academics, and often it is math. I would even go further. Society and the economy is highly unlikely to benefit from your kids running skills and much more likely to benfit from better prepared STEM workforce. And further, strong math education is a much more promising path to social mobility.

I respect your choices. Please respect my choices.


Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 5, 2021 at 8:58 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

127 boys and 35 girls is the exact ratio that we see in computer science, engineering and physics majors in University. This is evidence of a deeper problem of discouraging math in girls as young as age 11. I applaud the families in filing this suit try push PAUSD into fixing this.


Posted by Paul Brophy
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 5, 2021 at 8:59 pm

Paul Brophy is a registered user.

This should be viewed in the context of what is happening statewide, where the emphasis in math education is being placed on "equity." Here's a NYT article on this. Check out the comments section from what is a highly liberal set of commenters.

Web Link


Posted by Climate
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 5, 2021 at 10:11 pm

Climate is a registered user.

We all live on the same planet which is undergoing a major climate crisis that threatens human civilization. In this critical period of our lifetimes, we desperately need highly trained and skilled STEM minds to investigate solutions for the survival of all species. Please stop blaming the kids who studied math and science this past summer. In fact, we desperately need more kids who love to study math and science! Young kids today will be the ones facing this unprecedented challenge head-on and they will need to be more prepared than ever. Stop denying outside math credits in the name of equity and hold these kids back - because every curious mind that you destroy in this process is a chance taken away from our collective survival. Embrace and support children's desire to learn! This young generation will face and handle the mess created by generations before them who unfortunately have "dug our own graves".

Bravo to all kids who love math and science!


Posted by Citizen
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 5, 2021 at 10:13 pm

Citizen is a registered user.

If only PAUSD followed the law, maybe it wouldn't get sued.

Why does PAUSD want to hold kids back in math?


Posted by MPR
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 5, 2021 at 11:00 pm

MPR is a registered user.

We are seeing all of the same issues in MP public schools: strong resistance to offering advanced math placement, subjective math assessments used to hold students back, and students losing interest in math as a result.

It's a pity that things have gotten so bad that PAUSD parents felt they needed to file lawsuits on behalf of their children. Hopefully this lawsuit will put a spotlight on these important issues, and nearby school districts will see the writing on the wall.


Posted by I ❤ Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2021 at 12:35 am

I ❤ Paly is a registered user.

I am interested to see where this lawsuit goes.

The key issues I see here are (1) the placement tests are not standards-based and transparent in their meaning; (2) this lack of transparency may be allowing unconscious gender/sex bias to proliferate; and (3) students' preparation for higher level math classes is not being recognized by PAUSD.

Speaking to the first and second issues: Our District as a whole is (very) slowly moving toward a fully transparent, equitable standards-based grading system at the secondary level based on the ideas of Joe Feldman and other education scholars. Such a system is clearly needed in PAUSD when it comes to math placement. There should be separate placement tests for each math level available 6-12, all tests should be multiple-choice only to exclude potential bias at the point of scoring, and scoring guides/the algorithms used to convert performance into math placement recommendations should be published online well before the test is administered. Once the test is given, scores should be sent to parents/caregivers along with where their student falls among the range of math courses available. These changes may not eliminate the 127–35 gender gap, as the awful cultural association between being male and being good at math is well-entrenched in kids by the time they are old enough to take such tests, but they will help.

Speaking to the third point: It seems reasonable to me (an English teacher) that students be allowed to take the highest math class they have the knowledge and skills for, regardless of how and where those skills were attained. If the student somehow manages to get into a class for which they are unprepared and earns a low grade as a result, it must be the institutional norm that the blame for such an erroneous enrollment must lie with the student's parent(s). Maybe a Release of Liability would be warranted in cases where students wish to take math classes but have not passed in-house course prerequisites.


Posted by Sammy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2021 at 12:38 am

Sammy is a registered user.

@cmarg - as a teacher, I am sure you are aware of kids who are passionate about sports/ arts/ music. Well, for many kids STEM gives THAT adrenaline rush, and, believe me, these children really love math - they join math clubs on their own accord; they even get together after school to discuss interesting sciencey stuff.
It is stereotypical to put the "blame" of being interested in STEM on parents in the name of stress and pressure - unfortunately, people have spread this rhetoric in this town for years now - that needs to change for a healthy community!
Please be aware that the girl vs boy "card", as you put it, is not in regards to math courses that are taught at school. It refers to the placement tests. The statistics is clear that girls are not being able to do as well in these placement tests - that IS the truth - these are unfair tests made by PAUSD, with competitive style questions, which are NOT taught at any school level. Girls get stumped on timed tests because they are never before prepared in school for those. Boys seem to do well in competitive style questions, naturally, because they have more confidence in a time pressured environment. My point is that girls would do EQUALLY well in these placement tests if these are fair, standardised, tested exams, not half baked, home bred exams.

And please DO NOT comment negatively on other families' values and practices, especially if it differs with yours. These students are hard working children who study math in the summer, maybe, so that some pressure is relieved during the year when they have to play sports? Summers of my child and his friends is very productive - they study, vacation, socialize tonnes, they choose summer camps that interests them, which includes math camps!!
Many families in PAUSD get math support for their children - that is the reality, and that is their choice to make.


Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2021 at 8:49 am

Citizen is a registered user.

I hope this lawsuit sparks a deeper conversation about unhealthy attitudes in PAUSD towards family relationships, achievement and even stress, as if any child who wants to challenge themselves is too uppity for their britches and must be put in their place, and any parent seeking help for a child made miserable by being denied opportunities is just a helicopter unwilling to let go. There is an underlying false assumption that certain activities are stressful and others are not.This creates a devastating impact especially on 2e children—profoundly gifted intellectually with learning differences like dyslexia and dysgraphia that aren’t addressed in our district unless students are failing and that can affect performance on such tests and pigeonhole students into tracks far below their interest & abilities. (A class action in the Berkeley District over this fail-to-get-help state won.) If parents have to get children assessed out of their own pockets, it’s thousands of dollars not to mention this same unhealthy culture in the district creates more harm to students as staff feel the need to continue hurting the child’s opportunities to show that they are “right”. It’s not just harmful, it’s traumatizing in ways that hurt children long after they graduate from our schools. I really don’t see anything but a lawsuits that can address this, but I fear it will either only lead to retaliation against anyone who sticks up for their kids (including against the kids), or it will just help a few families snd the district culture will prevail again.

This unhealthy culture has the result of favoring those already in the easiest/favored paths and seriously disadvantaging those who aren’t.

Math education is part of a bigger picture of uneven opportunities from classroom to classroom that compound opportunities and disadvantages from early elementary on, entrenched practices of favoritism, and an unhealthy attitude towards parents and family support of children’s interests.


Posted by CalAveLocal
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 6, 2021 at 11:19 am

CalAveLocal is a registered user.

Would anyone question a child who chooses drama classes whenever or not they have genuine interest in theater? No, of course not. Why is it different in math? Why is the child who shows interest in math is automatically assumed to be pushed in by the parents. This is wrong and harmful attitude.

Secondly, parents were NOT allowed to see how their children did on the test. They were just told that the child did not pass the skip test that was made by the district (even though the results of standardized portion of the test were given to the parents). I cannot think of a single good reason why parents are not allowed to see their child's tests, other than the district is hiding something. This is unacceptable.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 6, 2021 at 12:09 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

We live in a high tech business area. The jobs in this area are dependent on profiency in specific skill sets. Those skill sets need to be fostered in our school systems. PAUSD has to re-think Their approach and get it stabilized so that there is no sense of unfairness. Correct the approach so that any student has an opportunity to achieve best results from living in this area. My neighborhood has foreign families who are here so that their children are at their best learning location for getting into college of their choice.


Posted by The Wind in the Willows
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2021 at 10:34 pm

The Wind in the Willows is a registered user.

This article said PAUSD's FAQ said ""Experts in mathematics education agree that ..." Who are the experts in math education? Large scale research seemed to conclude differently.

PAUSD website has a paper on the topic: "The Tracking and Ability Grouping Debate by Tom Loveless" (Web Link It analyzes the work of two researches, Slavin and Kulik, of opposite views to tracking. Based on researches of national surveys, High School and Beyond(HSB) and The National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), Loveless had the following findings:

1. "Three findings stand out. High track students in HSB learn more than low track students, even with prior achievement and other pertinent influences on achievement statistically controlled. ..."

2. "The second major finding is that race and tracking are only weakly related. Once test scores are taken into account in NELS, a stu-dent’s race has no bearing on track assignment. In fact, African-American students enjoy a 10% advantage over white students in being assigned to the high track. This contradicts the charge that tracking is racist."

3. "Third, NELS identifies apparent risks in detracking. Low-achieving students seem to learn more in heterogeneous math classes, while high and average achieving students suffer achievement losses—and their combined losses outweigh the low achievers’ gains. In terms of specific courses, eighth graders of all ability levels learn more when they take algebra in tracked classes rather than heterogeneously grouped classes."

Regarding self-esteem:
"...The public labeling of low track students may cause embarrassment, but the public display of academic deficiencies undoubtedly has a similar effect in heterogeneous classrooms. There, a low ability student’s performance is compared daily to that of high-achieving classmates."

It concludes tracking is not the issue. What lower lane students need are motivation, good teachers and more money to support their learning.


Posted by The Wind in the Willows
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2021 at 11:47 pm

The Wind in the Willows is a registered user.

The main issues with the current placement policy:

1. Transparency: PAUSD does not release scores or scores distribution to parents. They simple told parents whether their children pass or not. Through Public Record Request, PAUSD finally shared score reports of students who took recent math placement tests (without names). Based on that report, some students who scored at the upper 70% in the "home baked placement test" got rejected to advance math, but other students scores as low as upper 50% got a chance to advance math? (*note to editor: please contact me for the reports. Do not remove my comments.)

2. The effectiveness of district developed ("home baked") test to screen students to advance math: I personally know three students who failed the "home baked" test, but finally got into advance math through lawsuits or continuing negotiation. All of them aced in the highest lane and two even skipped more grade levels in math. My two daughters passed, but both struggled in math.

Other districts in bay area who use students' current performance and national recognized standardized math tests to place students have up to 40% 8th graders taking Geometry, with boys and girls almost equally. While PAUSD's policy placed only about 10-15% 8th graders in Geometry, with far more boys than girls.

3. PAUSD made the "home baked" test really hard in order to deter students.
The contents of the test were way beyond what students are aiming to skip. To skip 6th grade math, the test may include topics up to Algebra. To pass this "home baked" placement test, students need to rely on outside tutors or parents. This design basically close the door of advance math to lower income students. 2020's hispanic school board candidate Mr. Negal said in a debate that if he did not move out of PAUSD, his daughter would not have a chance to take Geometry in 8th grade.

The system needs change to support more girls and low income kids to advance math.


Posted by Sammy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2021 at 11:18 am

Sammy is a registered user.

I am just glad this community is opening up to having meaningful conversations about Math at PAUSD in a civil manner - so many supportive comments!


Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 7, 2021 at 7:31 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Here is some more information on the de-tracking debate.

Recall the quote from PAUSD
"Experts in mathematics education agree that tracking (or laning) students early in their education limits both high and low performing students, which ultimately leads to lower achievement overall." This is used to justify its policy of de-laning and holding back students. But is it true?

Here is a fairly balanced review of the literature on the effectiveness of heterogenous classrooms:
Web Link

This review is credible. Was also referenced in the New York Times article:
Web Link

What does it say?
The most widely cited study in favor of eliminating tracking, is the "Railside school" (Boaler and Staples 2008). But it
raises a red flag:
"It is noteworthy that the learning advantages were evident on some tests of mathematics achievement but not on the state mathematics assessment used for accountability purposes."
The "some tests of mathematical achievement" were designed by the study authors. So available OBJECTIVE measures did not verify the results. Would you want to get a vaccine from these authors?

The two most widlely studies on de-tracking both bundle de-tracking with other costly interventions. Scientifically this means that the effect of de-tracking alone can not be measured. The interventions include individual support and higher teacher to student ratios. The conclusion is that any "benefits" shown may not be due to the de-tracking. The review states the following:

"These case studies indicate that detracking may work under certain conditions, but they are less persuasive evidence that abolishing tracking in favor of classes with students heterogeneous in ability, all studying the same curriculum, will work everywhere or even in most schools."

Now back to our PAUSD.


Posted by Jimmy
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2021 at 9:17 pm

Jimmy is a registered user.

There's a ton of longitudinal data from MAA, like the AMC 8, wherein girls are not quite as good at math as boys. Maybe society is to blame, and maybe those parents and their lawyer can sue society at large... See Web Link Boys outperforming girls in math has been going on nationwide for decades, so this is at least one thing we can't blame PAUSD for.

I do wish someone would sue SFUSD, as described in this article "One district’s faulty data shouldn’t drive California’s math policy"
Web Link


Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 7, 2021 at 11:01 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Re gender gap
Yes, we do see gender gaps at the end of the pipeline (Computer science PhD and math olympiads). But this is NOT the case for taking "7th grade Algebra."

In the US, MORE girls than boys take Algebra in middle school (25% of females and only 22% of males).
Web Link

The gender gap at PAUSD at 7th grade Algebra is just an artifact of the PAUSD "pathways." It does not happen in 7th grade Algebra at nearby districts.

For example, Los Altos, Cupertino, Saratoga, have 45% of their students taking Algebra in 7th grade, and about the same number of boys and girls. See Cupertino data:
Web Link

The reason is that these districts offer a pathway that requires no skipping to access Algebra in 7th grade. Students that can learn at a faster pace and are interested can enroll. PAUSD does not offer a pathway -- it offers an obstacle course: First students need to learn outside of school, in their after school time, on their own resources, while not being challenged at school. Then they are subjected to a home-baked "gatekeeper" test that essentially is designed to fail the majority of those that are qualified.

A program designed to discourage and fail results in gender gaps. It also results in other inequities that do not exist at districts that provide supportive pathways. Cupertino has HALF the per-student funding of PAUSD but 28% of Cupertino SED students are taking "advanced math" (leading to 7th grade Algebra). In contrast, At PAUSD, SED students very rarely get to 8th grade Algebra.


Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2021 at 9:25 am

Citizen is a registered user.

The big problem: PAUSD is SO controlling. There are so many ways that students’ math (and other) education could be individualized. Math education with everyone learning the exact same thing the exact same way at the exact same time with exact age-matched peers is being prioritized over what is best for all students learning.It’s just not necessary anymore. But the district maintains its iron grip over how things are done.

The district does have independent study but it’s offering is too hush hush and heavily controlled and thus subject to the usual favoritism/retaliation habits that create winners & losers.

A classroom with students engaged in independent study doesn’t mean the students get no guidance, it could just mean they get to choose the most suitable of many available curricula and modalities that meets their individual best way of learning and succeeding, and get to pursue it with guidance from their teacher in a classroom of other students following their best paths. Many students in the same classroom engaged in different trajectories would be able to engage in common team learning but would not find it easy to construct arbitrary comparison hierarchies. It would be far easier to create a collegial environment that benefits all.I know from experience.(Itcould have been a pandemic silver lining.)

Regardless, the district could allow students interested in accelerating or deepening their own math the ability to use independent study to do that. District teachers have spent time evaluating different programs and online offerings, and they even quietly allow some favored few to take advantage. But if you aren’t in the favored or can’t afford lawyers, your child could very well be retaliated against to put them in their place (with lifelong emotional & academic harm). I’ve seen this,too. Furthered by current and past board members & employees who otherwise virtue signal.

PAUSD is so controlling falsely believing it prevents lawsuits-it hurts kids


Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 8, 2021 at 9:47 am

Anonymous is a registered user.

@Greene and Paly Parent

Nationally women make up ~20% of undergraduate computer science, engineering and physics according to this NSF study:

Web Link

So it's not just the PhD and math olympiads where women are under represented, it starts long before that. Yet when the gender bias in the curriculum is acknowledged, and the program is redesigned, we see marked improvement in female enrolment: ~50% in Carnegie Mellon Computer Science, and Harvey Mudd Computer Science:

Web Link

These (top ranked) universities have found that women do not have the same preparation for CS as men, i.e. they didn't get the same level of highschool preparation.

I hate to say it, but at least in this one test, PAUSD is duplicating the national gender biases instead of being more progressive. It is disadvantaging girls. We know that girls can do it, why not redesign the program to put them on equal footing, so that eventually, some of our girls can apply to colleges other than CMU and Harvey Mudd?



Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2021 at 11:08 am

S. Underwood is a registered user.

It's really quite simple. Let our girls take advanced math if they want to!

If PAUSD's home-brew placement tests don't align with ANY of the external standardized placement tests, then PAUSD's tests are wrong. Anything more complicated than that is missing the point.


Posted by Jimmy
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2021 at 9:08 pm

Jimmy is a registered user.

Can anyone please explain how the tests from PAUSD or MAA are biased against girls (or other groups)? How would you (or how does PAUSD purportedly) go about crafting a biased test? Can anyone provide us here an example of a test question that favors boys? Here are 875 questions from 35 years of advanced math tests. Please point out for us the questions that are biased. Web Link


Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2021 at 1:55 am

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

In the most recent G7 skip test, only 3 students out of the entire district passed the skip test. The test was widely advertised as being 5 hours long, including the 3 hour home-brew test. During test administration, the home-brew test was cut off after 2 hours. Kids were freaking out. By "3 kids passing" I mean that that was how many passed the official thresholds. Parents who tried to have an evidence-based discussion with the math leads were told that sorry, the test is the only way to skip and there is no recourse (even though they ****ed up the timing). HOWEVER, an additional 15 more kids were allowed to skip, with sub-threshold scores. And, some kids with lower scores "passed" while some kids with higher scores "failed". That's some shenanigans, especially given the "no recourse" stance. There are more irregularities, but these are pretty bad -- lawsuit worthy. Furthermore, most kids passed the MDTP readiness test, yet failed the home-brew. Most kids who get perfect scores on the MDTP failed.

In our neighboring districts, Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Altos, about 45% of their kids are in Honors Geometry in 8th grade. Their gender ratios are 50:50. They have 29% of their SED and EL kids in advanced math. They have flexible pathways where you can choose if you want to go up or down. In PAUSD you have to pass this math competition exam that is uncalibrated and in which they can't even get the timing correct. In past years, M:F ratio has been about 4:1. And, as for ethnic composition, I bet PAUSD has 0% SED/HUR in geometry in 8th grade.

How is that for equity? Don Austin tweets about equity whenever PAUSD does something that hurts high-achieving students, like eliminating grades during covid. He was happy about that. Overall, the top 40% or so of our students end up about 1 year behind in math compared to our peer districts.

I'm all for equity. Who isn't? But PAUSD seems to think that "equity" means bringing down the top instead.


Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2021 at 2:22 am

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

@Jimmy, very good questions. If you look at Web Link you can find some answers. I downloaded, for example, the 2019 AMC 12A Contest Score Gender Report with Percentile. I have some plots but I can't post them here. Generally, males do better at math competitions, for whatever reason that I won't get into here. If you plot the cumulative % versus score, you will see that girls reach higher cumulative % earlier than boys. For example, at 100 points, girls are at the 99th percentile, versus boys at about 96th percentile. If an evil test-maker chose 100 as the cutoff, only 1% of girls would pass versus 4% of boys. Voila.

Is the AMC competition designed to discriminate against girls? Arguably, NO. Math is math.

Does a math placement test based on contest problems with a known gender/score distribution that indicates M:F>4 above a chosen cutoff discriminate against girls? YES, the test is biased by design. Maybe not by intent, but by design.

Generally, in a normal assessment situation, I believe (can't find the references) that at younger ages, girls do a little better than boys, due to more maturity and executive function. We're talking about middle school here. But swing over to contest-land and things look quite different.

This is how PAUSD gets to a Title IX violation by "disparate impact"

Hope that helps.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2021 at 10:45 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I put two girls through PAUSD. They were both grossly over-prepared for college in all STEM subjects. Where our district lacks strength is language arts, history, philosophy, civics, and fine and performing arts--which. any CEO will tell you, are skills every human, including techies, needs in spades to be successful. It is not enough just to be excellent at math and science. Great leaders are great thinkers and communicators. They are thoughtful and ethical, and they have strength of character. These are not skills one has much opportunity to think or talk about in math, bio, physics, and chem class.

Much greater emphasis on developing critical thinking is needed. This is what once made American public school education great. Less parental pressure to drive kids down the perfect test scores rat hole would be helpful. Balance is needed.


Posted by stayinghome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 10, 2021 at 1:51 pm

stayinghome is a registered user.

i agree with solving the gender inequality. But honestly, PAUSD needs to focus on lifting up the students that don't have access to private tutors and outside classes. More focus on the poor performing students. My experience is the junior high math programs lay out exact requirements to move between tracks and that the high schools offer tracks all the way up to college level math. I've heard of kids taking math courses at Foothill. Perhaps those that aren't satisfied look at middle college or private institutions instead of legal action against the district.


Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2021 at 2:44 pm

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

@Jimmy, sorry, that web link to the AMC results got mangled. Here is the reports page:
Web Link

@Consider your options, I agree. But a problem in PAUSD is artificially pushing down kids relative to our neighboring districts. This crushes the "growth mindset" that PAUSD is so proud of for those who have a passion for math but are not able to pass the math competition-style "skip" tests. Some people on this thread, as well as PAUSD staff, seem to believe that the only way a kid is motivated in math is if their tiger parents force them to. There isn't the belief that a kid could actually be passionate about it.

Question for all: How many people here believe that PAUSD's low math achievement among the SED minorities is due to racism? Enough of a problem for the Board to approve ... something like $250K?? for anti-racist training for math teachers? (Did I get the right? please correct me if I'm wrong). That amount of $$ could go a long way to directly improving PAUSD's dismal performance on the struggling students. If you browse through Stanford EdOpportunity data, you'll see how poorly PAUSD fares with the SED/HUR groups:
Web Link
PAUSD is shockingly about the 3rd farthest to the bottom right. This is really really bad. If my interpretation is right, on this chart, PAUSD is 3rd worst in the nation for disparity between black and white students. Please correct me if my reading is incorrect.

It is a gaping racial disparity, BUT IS THIS DUE TO RACISM? It's too easy for the Board and Administration to finger that as the problem. Who is it that is being racist? Let's discuss this.

But the Title IX violation is PAUSD's own creation due to its math placement policies, ironically intended to create equity by holding back all but the most exceptionally high performers.


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