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S.D. Unified School District offers information to help new changes in math program compute with La Jollans

The La Jolla Cluster Association discusses the San Diego Enhanced Math initiative at its Dec. 9 meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“All humans are mathematical,” said Aly Martinez, instructional coordinator for math for the San Diego Unified School District.

Martinez, speaking during the Dec. 9 online meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association — which includes staff and parent representatives of the five San Diego Unified schools in La Jolla — laid out details about an initiative called San Diego Enhanced Math, which seeks to “modernize mathematics for our district,” and invited questions about the initiative.

SDEM began in 2018, and “its vision is centered around the idea that … mathematics is multidimensional” and includes what people know about it and how they can apply and communicate their mathematical thinking, she said.

“Rigorous mathematics is all three components,” Martinez said. “Computation alone is no longer how we define strength in mathematics.”

New test eliminates multiple choice and aims to capture more insight about how students are solving math problems.

Martinez said the SDEM team is planning “a comprehensive cluster and District Advisory Council tour,” during which it will further explain the initiative’s details and provide information about the District Essential Mathematics Indicators assessment, or DEMI. The tour also will be “an opportunity to get feedback on our placement and acceleration policy,” she said.

DEMI “is completely aligned to essential mathematics” determined by district-defined concepts and state math standards “validated by a variety of external experts,” Martinez said.

It “is not meant to be used as a grade or as part of a math placement policy,” she added.

Martinez said the team collects feedback through engagement with an external San Diego Enhanced Math steering committee composed of local mathematicians, educators and researchers, including representatives of UC San Diego, San Diego State University, community colleges and the San Diego County Office of Education.

Some parents raised issues with math acceleration above grade level in the district, saying it seems “restricted” and not “equitable.”

“San Diego Enhanced Math has no plans for eliminating acceleration in San Diego Unified,” Martinez said. “We are really looking at how we can increase flexible options for students so that all students have access to all sorts of rigorous advanced math courses, including AP calculus.”

Parent Eren Efe asked Martinez to “provide a very clear, side-by-side comparison showing at which grade the students can take which math classes under the former math curriculum vs. the new curriculum. I think that would help address many of the concerns and anxiety the parents have.”

Martinez said setting placement and acceleration policies “is very complex … because if and when we make changes to our middle-level placement policies, it has direct consequences and ramifications for things that are outside of middle level. The reality is, placement policies and acceleration are really about the system itself.”

“One example is that not all of our high schools have the same offerings,” she said. “What if there’s a student who wants to take AP calculus and it’s not offered at their site? That’s not equitable. Are there rigorous, flexible options for all of our students?”

La Jolla High School PTSA President Sharon Miller said “we have incredibly competent principals who care tremendously about their students. They know better than anyone else. Their math teachers are fantastic.”

“There’s no equity if you’re holding some kids back because some other kids are being held back,” Miller said. “Instead of trying to move this entire ship of 150,000 students … I just really wish someone at the district would acknowledge that and stop trying to move a mountain when we can move hills more effectively.”

Muirlands Middle School math teacher Robert Tindall asked for clarification on how “we’re going to place students next year and the role of parents in the placement process.”

“I have some concerns about that and how it happened this year,” he added.

Some speakers asked for more information about the SDEM team’s feedback mechanism. One concern was that the accelerated math committee spent 18 months talking about placement policies but “it seems like those recommendations didn’t really go anywhere or inform other policies.”

Principals at the five public schools in La Jolla that make up the San Diego Unified School District’s La Jolla Cluster discussed COVID-19 vaccinations and testing among other issues during a virtual meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association on Dec. 9.

Andrew Park, a senior at La Jolla High, said the “school system’s flexibility has enabled me and a lot of my peers to discover their passions and talents.” He said he has led the Muirlands math club and LJHS math team.

But Park expressed concern that high school students are often “not being told about what reforms are occurring.” He asked Martinez “if there is a way for us students to contribute our experiences, our thoughts and our recollections about the processes and how [La Jolla] schools are handling these situations.”

“If we want to pursue something truly equitable, we need to reach out to the students … all around San Diego [for diverse] perspective,” he said.

Martinez said she wanted “to make sure I’m really clear: We are not intending to make decisions without your input and without transparency.”

She added that the SDEM team plans to add student voices to its committees and she will consider how to impart information to students.

Martinez collected remaining questions and said she would return at a future cluster meeting with answers. She said more information, including a sheet of frequently asked questions, is available at bit.ly/SanDiegoEnhancedMath.