Test scores are one way to curb the effects of bias in schools, and Texas is using that to get more kids into advanced classes like math.
In most schools, advance courses are opt-in, with some hoops to jump through. A family has to know they’re available and request that their student be considered. A teacher’s recommendation is often required, or that of a school counselor. Those two filters might not seem like much, but for students in some demographics, or students from families which for any reason do not or cannot prioritize education, they’re often insurmountable.
Under a new Texas law, one of the few they’ve made to improve diversity in their schools instead of harm it, now every student who performs well (top 40%) on a fifth-grade math assessment test will be automatically enrolled in advanced math for sixth grade, with the chance to opt-out if they prefer. Advanced math in sixth grade lets them take Algebra I in eight grade, and ensures them the opportunity to get as far as calculus and statistics before graduating high school if they choose that path.
Before the pandemic, Black and Hispanic students in Texas were routinely left out of advanced classes even if they earned high test scores, according to research by the E3 Alliance, an Austin-based education collaborative that advocated for the law. And the window to be included in that faster track is narrow – fifth and sixth grade lay the foundation. These students also suffered worst from learning loss during school shutdowns.
For many advocates of the new law, this is a workforce issue as much as an educational one.
“Especially in today’s rapidly changing and technology-driven economy, math matters more than ever — for individual students and for the larger Texas workforce to remain competitive,” said Jonathan Feinstein, a state director at The Education Trust, a national nonprofit promoting equity.
Since the new law, the percent of Black and Hispanic students in honors math has more than doubled.
The test itself is still a barrier – it is not a measure of who is intrinsically better at math, but of who is better prepared to learn and understand math in the way it is taught in schools, which is another kind of bias.