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Course Access and Sequencing

**California Department of Education. (2013). Mathematics Framework Appendix A: Course placement and sequences (Draft chapter; approved by State Board of Education). Available at

This appendix from the California Mathematics Frameworks highlights important considerations for course sequence and structure when rolling out the Common Core State Standards in mathematics (CSSM). The framework describes the new eighth grade math standards as more rigorous than courses developed under the previous California standards, arguing that they better prepare students for higher level mathematics by providing adequate foundation in content and mathematical theory. A review of current student grade point averages and course enrollment and repetition patterns in California, matched with a literature review, indicates that students are frequently placed in Algebra I without sufficient preparation, thus setting them up for failure to complete high school and/or be college eligible. The document offers a variety of options for accelerating students at different times to ensure content mastery before progression to the next level. It suggests several strategies for assessing student readiness to ensure adequate mathematical preparation.

**Will, M. (2014, November 10). In transition to Common Core, some high schools turn to 'integrated' math. Education Week, 34(12), s18. Available at

The implementation of the CCSSM introduces the opportunity for states and districts to meaningfully reconsider course placement and sequencing as students move into secondary mathematics. Although the traditional course pathway in the United States (i.e., Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II) has been standard for decades, and a more integrated approach (i.e., Math 1, Math 2, Math 3) has been most commonly used outside of the U.S. CCSSM allows for either pathway; this piece highlights the differing opinions on implementing an integrated approach. Few states have mandated either pathway for all schools; most, including California, have left the decision to local school districts. Advocates of the integrated pathway claim that the focus and coherence required of the standards is achieved more effectively when topics are not presented in the silos created by the traditional approach. However, the integrated pathway stirs concern among parents who are worried that the new approach appears less impressive and compromises their students’ college applications. Other advocates of the integrated pathway believe that, while the integrated approach is better aligned to CCSSM instruction, educators are not prepared to restructure their courses in such a significant way. Regardless of the pathway chosen, the CCSSM transition creates an opportunity to reevaluate how to set students up for success in mathematics.

Daro, P. (2014). Oakland and San Francisco create course pathways through common core mathematics. Washington, DC: SERP Publications. Available at

This paper draws on the Strategic Education Research Partnership’s work with San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts to explore approaches to designing mathematics course sequences under the Common Core. The author provides data, based on an analysis conducted by Neal Finkelstein and Michelle Reininger, revealing that only 5 percent of students follow a mathematics sequence that starts with Algebra I in 8th grade and ends with Calculus in 12th grade. The author suggests reorienting educators’ focus from the timing of enrollment in Algebra I to completion of college readiness. To become college ready, the author recommends that all schools offer all students a core course sequence through which students can access the CCSSM, supplemented with additional support courses to better position struggling students for success. Compressed courses that enable advanced students to access content more quickly, along with advanced courses in high school, can provide vehicles for to challenging and accelerating students who are interested in preparing for STEM-related fields of study.

Finkelstein, N., Fong, A., Tiffany-Morales, J., Shields, P., & Huang, M. (2012). College bound in middle school and high school? How math course sequences matter (Executive Summary). Sacramento, CA: The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd. Available at

This executive summary highlights major findings from an analysis of California student transcript data on mathematics course pathways. Findings suggest that because failure rates are so high for students who repeat Algebra I, the traditional approach of requiring students to repeat courses is an ineffective way to ensure that students are learning course material. The authors also argue that while accelerated pathways benefit some students, most students receive inadequate support when they take higher level coursework in earlier grade levels. Interviews with representatives from three study districts further suggest that districts may not have an accurate sense of course taking trends. The authors emphasize the need for improved district-wide communications around and multiple measures of student readiness before placement decisions are made.

**This document is considered a priority reading.