Board listens to community concerns on math placement


Julian Hong

Recent changes to official district grade point average calculations and the controversy surrounding the PAUSD math lawsuit took center stage at the March 28 Board of Education meeting.

Among the issues discussed during the open forum were alterations to the dual enrollment Multivariable Calculus course for the upcoming academic year. Currently, PAUSD offers Multivariable Calculus as a dual enrollment course with Foothill College, but Superintendent Don Austin said the current PAUSD teacher lacks the specific credentials needed for dual enrollment and so the course can’t be offered as dual enrollment for next year.

City Council member Greg Tanaka said he was concerned that off-campus courses would not count toward students’ GPA, which may affect Multivariable Calculus enrollment.

“Our primary concern should be academic growth and the success of our students,” Tanaka said. “These policies might inadvertently penalize those who pursue off-campus courses or classes such as Multivariable Calculus. I urge the school board to reconsider these decisions and adopt a more nuanced approach.”

Tanaka suggested a case-by-case review of off-campus courses to evaluate their eligibility for GPA inclusion. However, Austin told The Campanile that there are too many courses to monitor and verify effectively.

“There are literally hundreds of places we have certified to accept credits from,” Austin said. “We’re not going to go through each of those and evaluate their syllabus and monitor their actual work.”

In addition to off-campus course discussions, the agenda item for math placement sparked debate regarding the recent changes implemented by the district. The district was sued by a Palo Alto parent for non-compliance with the California Mathematics Placement Act of 2015. In March, a Santa Clara County judge ruled that PAUSD must present a new plan compliant with state law.  Since the judge’s decision, Austin has blamed vague language used on the district website for the confusion surrounding math and the subsequent lawsuit.

Paly Board Representative Johannah Seah said the conversation surrounding math has been misconstrued. According to Seah, the California Mathematics Placement Act of 2015 aimed to address racial disparities in math placements, specifically to prevent students of color from having to repeat Algebra 1 in freshman year despite scoring proficient on placement tests. Seah refuted proponents of the lawsuit by illustrating how the act’s original purpose has been misinterpreted by the plaintiffs.

“The focus of math placement in this conversation should be on getting students to the appropriate level,” Seah said. “If we’re distracted by only considering those who are accelerating one, two or three levels, we’re unfortunately not directing our attention as we should to students who are falling behind in math.”