Cal State University may require four years of high school math for admission


In the not-too-distant future, high school students bound for a California State University campus who thought they could slide through their senior year without taking a math course might instead be hitting the books.

CSU’s Academic Senate, which represents faculty at all 23 campuses in the system, approved a resolution this spring calling for entering freshmen to take four years of high school math, rather than the current three.

Worried that “mathematics skills decline with a lack of practice,” the resolution recommends that during their final year of high school students take a course in mathematics or some other “quantitative reasoning” course like statistics, computer science or coding, which helps students create computer software.

The challenge was even singled out in the state budget lawmakers approved last month. The spending plan includes $3 million for a competition to encourage development of a course to help high school seniors prepare for college-level math through a year-long, senior-level course.

The new course would be the math equivalent of a fourth-year “Expository Reading and Writing” class being offered in more than 800 California high schools, and taken by approximately 80,000 students each year.

“We’ve seen real differences in students who took math every year (in high school) from those who didn’t,” said outgoing Academic Senate Chairman Steven Filling, a professor of accounting at Cal State Stanislaus.

The need for more math preparation is evident from CSU figures. Last fall, 27 percent of entering freshmen, or 17,653 students, needed remedial or “developmental” courses in mathematics. Almost the same number had not taken a fourth year of high school math.

“We’ve seen real differences in students who took math every year (in high school) from those who didn’t,” said outgoing Academic Senate Chairman Steven Filling.

The University of California also is looking at math requirements. But Ralph Aldredge, chair of the system’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, said the issue isn’t as urgent because roughly 93 percent of UC freshmen applicants for fall 2014 took at least four years of high school math.

“We have no significant motivation for making a change,” Aldredge said.

The next step for CSU is to get the approval of Chancellor Timothy White, and then the CSU board of trustees. That could happen by the end of the year, although actual implementation could be one or two years away.

Ken O’Donnell, CSU’s senior director of student engagement, is optimistic the change will come.

“It feels like the momentum around this is real,” he said.

The proposal has gotten strong support from the CSU’s chancellor’s office. In a letter to the Academic Senate, CSU Dean Leo Van Cleve said “we agree that requiring students to take a fourth year of math while in high school is in the interest of student success.”

At the same time, Van Cleve expressed concern about what effect the extra requirement would have on “our most vulnerable students.” He worried, for example, whether poorer high schools would be able to provide the resources and instruction students would need to take the fourth-year course.

Vicki Vierra, president of the California Mathematics Council, representing 8,500 teachers and administrators, said her organization would support a fourth year of math but that students should have a number of options beyond just traditional math classes.

“If the class is only pre-calculus, I’m not sure we could support it,” Vierra said. “We’d support other options, especially statistics, since it seems to be useful throughout one’s life.”

If the faculty group’s recommendation is approved, a fourth year of math could lead to resetting the progression of math courses throughout the state, particularly from middle school to 12th grade, when students are taking basic math, like geometry, and progressing to higher-concept math courses, such as algebra 2, trigonometry and calculus, university officials said.

Specifics of the proposed requirement have not yet been determined.

According to Filling, the fourth-year math class change will receive a much-needed boost this summer from a special quantitative reasoning task force formed by CSU’s Academic Senate. The task force has representatives from the office of California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, kindergarten through 12th grade school districts, California Community Colleges, the University of California and the State Board of Education. The task force, which plans to release a report on what the fourth-year math requirement will look like, will take direction from Dean Van Cleve’s letter, which supports formation of a quantitative reasoning class, like computer science, statistical analysis, or financial literacy.

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