More than 1.5 million jobs will open up in California over the next 10 years. But trends show that our students won’t be ready for the jobs of the future unless we take action now.

For example, jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are expected to grow 22 percent by 2020. However, less than half of graduating students will have the skills necessary to fill those jobs. What is more startling is how early in the process we are creating artificial barriers for students to pursue a STEM-related career.

A study by the Noyce Foundation found that nearly 65 percent of students who took Algebra I in 8th grade were made to repeat the same class in 9th grade. Many successful students who had received a “B-” or above in the first class, had shown proficient understanding of the subject matter but were still held back. The report’s findings indicate minority students were overwhelmingly more likely to be held back in math because of this disturbing practice, known as math misplacement. According to the report, only about one-third of Latino and African-American students were promoted to Geometry despite demonstrating proficiency in Algebra, a dramatically lower percentage than the number of Asian or White students who were advanced to Geometry.

The transition from 8th to 9th grade math is one of the most critical in preparing students for college. Many colleges require at least three years of high school math, with preference given to those who have completed college-level calculus or statistics. Unnecessarily holding back so many successful students of color early in the K-12 timeline creates artificial roadblocks that reduce STEM pipeline diversity.

School districts’ overreliance on subjective measures, or only checking one point of data when determining placement, is a root cause of the problem. This is why the passage of SB 359—The California Mathematics Placement Act of 2015—is critical to the success of California’s students and the future economic prosperity of our region and the state as a whole. The legislation calls for school districts to adopt a fair, objective, and transparent mathematics placement policy—one where placement in the appropriate math class is based on a student’s actual proficiency in the subject matter.

Results from this approach have already proven to be successful for the North County Mathematic Consortium, a collaboration of several San Francisco Bay Area school districts that was established in 2010 to adopt math placement policies that rely on multiple objective measures when making student placement decisions. The result—districts in that Consortium saw a dramatic increase in the number of students recommended and placed in Geometry in 9th grade. Most notably, both Latino and Filipino students saw dramatic increases in the percentage of students that advanced. The model used by these districts should be replicated statewide.

With a large population of minority, particularly young Latino students, representing the future workforce of the Los Angeles and Orange County region, we cannot allow mistakes in math placement to result in students being unfairly held back in math and thrown off a STEM career trajectory

That is why SB 359 is right for our students and our state. In today’s global economy, success depends on creating a pipeline of the best and brightest minds to fill the jobs of a 21st century innovation-led economy. Diversity is one of the Golden State’s great strengths and we should focus on putting policies in place that will build a workforce that is representative of California’s population.


Alicia Berhow is Orange County Business Council’s Vice President of Workforce Development and Advocacy