Opinion

Four Years of Math Hurt Students of Color

Many students might consider math to be their least favorite class. For some, math is a bunch of numbers arranged in confusing ways that students have to remember and tirelessly practice. It can be very hard and take loads of work, and much of what is learned is fairly useless in many careers. Unfortunately, taking math for four years is necessary in order to realistically get accepted into University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) colleges. 

Berkeley High School (BHS) offers many senior year math courses that are great options if a student plans to have a career in a mathematics or science related field, but for the rest of the student population, the classes are less appropriate. 

The UC/CSU system should lower the math requirement to two years. UC/CSU universities require three years of math for admission, but recommend four years, which effectively means that applicants must take four years of math for a chance at admission. 

While BHS only requires students to take two years of math, there is pressure to take four years even for students who don’t plan on going to a four year university, as university requirements and BHS requirements are sometimes used interchangeably. Math courses are only absolutely necessary in university if you major in mathematics or science. So, really, why require four years of high school math for everyone? 

One could argue that advanced senior year math courses can make students who previously felt indifferent towards the subject become interested. Calculus taught in senior courses has far more realistic applications than topics covered in earlier courses and can open up many possibilities for students. Without a fourth year of math required, many students would pass up the option. However, if instead of forcing students to take these courses, schools made them optional, not to mention more engaging and accessible to students who normally wouldn’t take the course, many more students would benefit. 

In reality, senior year math courses are unimportant to many students, and most students who take them struggle to succeed. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics assessment, a mere 26 percent of twelfth grade students scored at or above a proficient level, with 36 percent of students scoring below a basic level. 

Non-white students’ scores are even lower than this, other than Asian or Pacific Islander students who excel relative to other ethnicities. Black, Hispanic, and Native American students have proficiency rates averaging at about 10 percent and below basic level scores at approximately a majority of 55 percent. Math courses undeniably disproportionately harm non-white students, and often make it harder for them to graduate. The high school graduation rate among non-white students is significantly lower than white students. While there are many other factors to this such as higher poverty rates, math fail rates certainly contribute.

Looking at math proficiency rates, a clear racial disparity can be seen in success, with math harming students of color. There is no need for UC/CSU admissions to require four years of math. To students that have no interest in a future in math or science, a fourth year simply isn’t useful. UC/CSU universities and BHS should not require students to take unnecessary math courses, and give students more freedom to choose what they want to see in their schedules.

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