S.D. Unified math team presents La Jolla schools with initiative updates it hopes will measure up

Aly Martinez and Patrick Callahan offer updates on the San Diego Enhanced Mathematics initiative.
Aly Martinez and Patrick Callahan offer updates on the San Diego Enhanced Mathematics initiative during the Jan. 20 La Jolla Cluster Association meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Representatives of the five public schools that make up the La Jolla Cluster in the San Diego Unified School District heard updates to an initiative called San Diego Enhanced Mathematics at the Jan. 20 virtual meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association.

Aly Martinez, district instructional coordinator for math, presented the SDEM initiative to cluster representatives in December, saying it seeks to “modernize mathematics for our district.”

She said at the time that “computation alone is no longer how we define strength in mathematics” but that it also includes what people know about it and how they can apply and communicate their mathematical thinking.

At last week’s meeting, Martinez said the SDEM vision is to view math as multidimensional, “which means that mathematicians are knowledgeable, that they apply their thinking when they make sense of the world and that they communicate their reasoning as active critical thinkers and problem-solvers.”

Math consultant Patrick Callahan, who has worked with the district for three years, said SDEM has been developed with feedback from members of the program’s steering committee — local mathematicians and educators from UC San Diego, San Diego State University, San Diego Community College District and San Diego County Office of Education.

Callahan said the initiative reflects “a commitment to modernizing the mathematics classroom. … We really want to take all the good things that are currently in the district and enhance them and add to them and make them better.”

He said the SDEM program aims “to improve the opportunities for students by including new courses and new options and weaving in components such as data science and computer science throughout the TK-12 [transitional kindergarten through 12th grade] experience.”

Martinez said modernizing math instruction is necessary because “future employers [are] demanding that our graduates have both soft skills and tech skills for their future careers. And frankly, the modern mathematician is surprising us, showing up in new and diverse fields. These mathematicians predict when earthquakes are coming through, they’re using complex algorithms to suggest your next show, the next restaurant you try, and they even helped us determine when to reopen during the pandemic.”

The school district canceled three January forums due to COVID-19 and will now hold one public meeting Feb. 26.

She said SDEM has partnered with the TK-5 STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) department, which brings “hands-on, minds-on inquiry to elementary students.”

SDEM is “bridging that system through” grade eight and “also thinking about what it looks like in high school to specialize,” she said.

New choices will be offered as third-year math options in high schools.

“We want to increase options, not remove any,” Callahan said. “We are committed to increasing flexible, relevant and rigorous math course options. San Diego Enhanced Mathematics has no plans for eliminating acceleration in San Diego.”

“We want to acknowledge that there is a need to improve the mathematics middle school placement and acceleration policy,” he said. “We know there have been questions about transparency, clarity about implementation or consistency of implementation across sites.”

Martinez said there will be no changes to course offerings for the 2022-23 school year, nor will there be a placement test. Students will be placed in math courses according to teacher or counselor recommendations and previous grades.

“As always, if parents would like to request an alternate placement, they can do that,” she said.

The assessment associated with SDEM is the District Essential Mathematics Indicators, or DEMI, which Callahan said “is not meant to be used as a grade or part of a grade or used in any way for math placement policy,” but instead is “a tool to get powerful data quickly into the hands of teachers ... so [they] can be more responsive and better situated to make instructional choices to help support student learning.”

He said DEMI is scored externally by people who “are trained using rubrics [and] standards of objectivity” similar to those used in other subjects.

Callahan said the district’s math leadership team is still on a “listening tour” to collect input on SDEM. The La Jolla Cluster Association plans to hold another forum for updates at a future meeting.

Martinez invited families to enter questions and feedback about the initiative at