A new report on high school math class patterns finds minority students in New Jersey are being left behind.

Elisabaeth Kim, who co-authored the report when she was a Robert Curvin postdoctoral associate at the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University, said data from the New Jersey Department of Education’s School Performance Report shows students from more affluent schools are much more likely to take advanced math classes in high school than students in schools that are 90% Black or Latino.

She said unless students in middle school take Algebra 1 and geometry by the time they reach their senior year in high school they usually won’t be ready for courses like pre-calculus and statistics.

A leg up

“Those courses are really often favored at admission to selective colleges and universities and are needed for many math-related majors in those schools,” she said.

The study finds Black and Latino middle school students have far lower rates of access to Algebra 1 than schools with more mixed enrollment “so they’re not really starting to take Algebra 1 until they get to high school, which means that they’re less likely to take calculus in their senior year because they have other coursework.”

Silhouettes of Diverse International Students Celebrating Graduation
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What’s the big deal?

Kim said this is important because science, technology and math coursework can lead to rewarding post-secondary options in college and the workforce.

“Also increasing participation and access in these STEM fields, that’s a national priority and it has been for some time," she said. “We’re really hoping that part of the dialogue we’ll see in New Jersey is that of increasing access and enrollment in these advanced math courses.”

Kim pointed out that Algebra 1 is not required in middle school, but offering it to students does give them a definite advantage in math once they reach high school.

She noted while more segregated, minority schools do have fewer resources than more affluent schools, offering Algebra 1 in middle school can certainly be part of the curriculum in all New Jersey schools.

The report also finds schools with higher numbers of English learners and students with disabilities mirror the patterns observed in segregated schools.

Kim is now an associate professor at California State University, Monterey Bay.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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