Study Finds Misplacement of 9th Grade Students in Bay Area Math Classes Creates Racial Disparities Despite Positive Standardized Test Results

Qualified Minority Students Prevented from Taking Geometry in 9th Grade

Media Contact: Candice Francis / Communications Director, LCCR /  415.543.9697 x216 /

Held Back”, a report released today by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area indicates that school districts have been disproportionately requiring minority 9th graders to repeat Algebra I, even when they have performed well on standardized tests and successfully passed the class in 8th grade. The report outlines how such practices violate federal and state civil rights laws and urges reform of placement practices.
“No student should be denied the opportunity to advance after successfully passing a class and performing well on standardized tests,” says Kimberly Thomas Rapp, Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director. “Even if school districts are not misplacing students on purpose, they risk legal liability if that is the result and if minority students are disproportionately impacted.” She noted the significant effects that misplacement can have on future educational and professional success. Most universities (including California State and University of California) require at least three years of math for college eligibility and prefer students who have taken Calculus or AP Statistics. Such high level math classes are generally only available to students who begin high school taking Geometry. Without this proficiency, a student may be unprepared to compete for the highly compensated, highly sought after fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The study identifies subjective assessments in placement decisions, such as teacher recommendations, as a likely cause of racial disparities.“This report should offer school districts a clear incentive to do what is right: create objective placement criteria so that students are not denied opportunities to succeed,” said Emmett D. Carson, CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which funded the report.Carson noted that while some districts already have moved toward objective placement criteria, too many have failed to act to the continued detriment of students.

While this study focused on San Mateo and Santa Clara County schools, the problem is widespread and affects students, including African American, Pacific Islander and Latino students among others, throughout the Bay Area. Solving the problem is not complex and incurs no costs. Schools need to revise their placement criteria to be based solely on objective data. Research indicates hat teacher recommendations often determine student placement.“We wanted to show schools that they can avoid any negative repercussions from these placement decisions by taking action with simple, cost-effective steps,” says Carson.
“At this point, our goal is to educate the public and schools about this problem,” says Thomas Rapp. “We hope that districts that are engaging in these practices will voluntarily reform, particularly now that they are aware of the legal liability they face if they do not.”