CSU poised to drop plan for tougher math admissions requirement

California State University trustees are poised to abandon a proposal to require a fourth year of math coursework for admission, ending a plan put in place six years ago that many said would create barriers for students trying to get into the system, triggered heavy criticism.

Administrators are recommending that the board of trustees vote down the proposed requirement in January, citing new research showing that nearly all CSU applicants and enrollments have already completed four years of math majors. They also raised concerns that the new requirement would hurt students whose high schools are underfunded or who are still struggling with the impact of the pandemic on education.

“CSU has no plans to change our admissions requirements,” Nathan Evans, the system’s assistant vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, said during a Nov. 15 meeting.

During a discussion of the recommendation, several trustees on the 23-member panel said they would abandon the proposed requirement but pledged to continue to find ways to develop students’ quantitative thinking skills once they arrive on campus.

First introduced in 2016, the proposal required students to complete an additional year of math, science, or other quantitative reasoning courses such as computer science or personal finance to qualify for admission into the country’s largest four-year public higher education system.

The plan was enthusiastically supported by then-Cal Chancellor Timothy P. White as a way to increase rigor and increase college graduation rates, close performance equity gaps, and better prepare students for the world of work.

But dozens of social justice groups, education advocates, school districts and legislators from across the state have lobbied against the proposal. They argued that this would unfairly prevent Black and Hispanic students, as well as students from low-income families, from enrolling in the system due to uneven access to such classes and a lack of qualified teachers.

Christopher Nellum, chief executive of Ed Trust-West, a nonprofit focused on educational equity, said at the time the system hadn’t done enough research or provided data on how an additional requirement would affect students.

“Just because of their zip code or where they live or their ability to attend a school with the right resources, they may have been expelled from CSU,” Nellum said of the students. “We wanted CSU to provide evidence that wasn’t going to happen, or if it did, they had a plan to minimize the impact.”

Cal State officials commissioned a study from research firm MDRC in 2020 to measure how the additional requirement would affect students.

The study showed that 94% of California high school graduates who meet current admission requirements for the state’s public universities have already completed a fourth year of math-related courses.

“The vast majority of California high school grads who may want to attend CSU are already taking and passing an additional quantitative reasoning course, although it is not currently required,” said Susan Sepanik, senior associate at MDRC.

The researchers found that students who met the proposed requirement were more likely to pass their first college-level math course than their fourth-year peers who did not take a math, science, or quantitative reasoning course.

However, interviews with school district leaders raised concerns that not all high schools would be able to provide additional classes for students to meet the proposed requirements. Schools in rural and low-income communities said they would struggle to offer additional classes because they don’t have enough teachers.

Cal State Administrators said that if the trustees scrap the proposed requirement, they will instead strongly recommend that students complete four years of math courses.

The system will also focus on providing additional academic support to first-year college students. To address the nationwide teacher shortage, the system has allocated more resources to prepare pre-kindergarten through 12th grade teachers for math, science and computer science classes.

“Any future admissions proposal should not penalize students for attending a high school in the wrong school district quoted, a district that may not be giving them what they need,” Nellum said. “It’s a big win.”

He said the fact that so many Cal State applicants are already in fourth-year math courses suggests the proposal would not have addressed the issue of improving graduation rates and closing gaps in academic outcomes.

When students “already meet a requirement that’s coming into your system and you’re still not seeing the kind of results you want, that indicates changes your system should make,” he said. “This is not about the course. It’s about… what programs, what services, what supports you offer.”

Maria Linares, a student trustee who opposed the proposal before becoming a board member in 2021, said she was relieved that administrators had urged trustees to reverse course.

“I am very pleased to see that we have taken a complete turnaround,” said Linares, a voting board member. “I remember getting tears in my eyes and crying just thinking about how many students we would have to turn away or put up barriers for if this proposal ever came up again and we accepted it. “

Other trustees said the university system still has work to do to equip students with the quantitative thinking skills they need to graduate.

“I know when we raise the bar of expectation, the students meet that higher and higher bar. And yet we want to be mindful of equity and access,” said Diego Arambula, a trustee. “I don’t see that as a priority as we move away from that.”

Another trustee, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, said the problem boils down to making sure students are prepared for where they end up after college.

“The journey does not only go to the CSU,” said Gilbert-Lurie. “It’s not about yes or no, two classes or one, it’s about getting more students in the tent and making sure they have the most knowledge they need to be most successful in life.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-26/cal-state-plans-to-abandon-controversial-fourth-year-math-requirement CSU poised to drop plan for tougher math admissions requirement

Alley Einstein

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