In Case You Missed it This Summer: PPS-SF Recap of I Heart Math

posted Dec 9, 2015, 9:38 PM by Miranda Martin   [ updated Dec 10, 2015, 8:28 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston ]

I Heart Math

This past July, PPS-SF ran a series of newsletter articles which featured Q & A with Lizzy Hull Barnes, Program Administrator for Mathematics for the SFUSD Stem Initiative and Jim Ryan, STEM Executive Director.  Much of the content came from questions asked by parents -- and the questions kept coming (and we kept passing them to Lizzy and Jim) even after the newsletter series ended. These questions continue to be salient, so we thought we would repost our original articles, and the follow up questions and answers we received. Keep the questions coming! Send them to with "I Heart Math" in the subject line.

Part One

Last week PPS-SF staff had a chance to sit down with Lizzy Hull Barnes, Program Administrator for Mathematics for the SFUSD Stem Initiative and Jim Ryan, STEM Executive Director. We talked about data trends, learned new things about Common Core Math Implementation in SFUSD and got answers to some of the PPS-SF network's burning questions.

First the cool things:

  • Reduced class size will be a reality in all 8th grade math classes next year.
  • No classes will be larger than 24 students, and many may be smaller. SFUSD has committed to maintaining small classes in 8th grade math for at least two years, maybe longer.
  • On-site math coaching will be provided for all middle schools. Nine coaches and one program administrator will support middle grades math.
  • SFUSD has committed in writing to the following 3-year goals:
    • By June 2018 they will have reduced the number of students needing to retake Algebra 1, Geometry, or Algebra 2 by 50% from numbers recorded for 6/2013. This goal will be true for the entire population of SFUSD students as well as each ethnicity. And;
    • By June 2018 they will increase the number of students who take and pass 4th year math courses (post Algebra 2 courses) with a C or better by 10%. And;
    • By June 2018 they will increase the number of Latino and African American students who take and pass Advanced Placement math courses by 20%.

Less cool things:

  • FACT 1: SFUSD followed the progress of 2,705 8th graders who enrolled in the old Algebra 1 in 2011. By tenth grade less than a fifth of those students (516) tested proficient in 10th grade Algebra 2 on the CST test. Of the initial 2,705 students, only 20 Latino students and 3 African American students scored proficient on the Algebra 2 CST.
  • FACT 2: The vast majority of students who take AP math in high school never take another math class -- ever.
Next week, stay tuned for part 2, where we share answers to your questions about math!

Part 2


PPS-SF staff recently met with Lizzy Hull Barnes, Program Administrator for Mathematics for the SFUSD Stem Initiative, and Jim Ryan, STEM Executive Director. Afterward, the team at PPS-SF shared some data and updates about SFUSD’s implementation of Common Core Math in the July 2 Scoop Newsletter and launched the I Heart Math campaign to invite our 7,000+ newsletter recipients to share your questions and comments about the new approach to teaching and learning math. Read on to see the second installment of this effort; complete with answers to some of your burning questions!

Questions from PPS-SF's Parent Network:

Question: Will this new math sequence in middle school and high school provide enough challenge for high achieving math students? Aren’t some kids ready for Algebra in 8th grade?

Answer: CCSS Math 8 is more rigorous than the 8th grade math courses of the past, and covers many standards that used to be part of Algebra 1. The content of CCSS Math 8 is based on standards from three main domains: algebra and functions (about 65%), geometry (about 25%), and statistics (about 10%). Both CCSS Math 8 and CCSS Algebra 1 courses also include content from more advanced high school courses and concepts not previously taught in high school math, especially statistics. Here is an FAQ showing how the courses compare.

Teachers can differentiate student learning in each unit for students who exhibit early mastery of the content by allowing students to deepen their understanding of a concept. In a class studying algebraic functions, a teacher could pose the question, “Do student backpacks get heavier as they get older?” The students would then collect data from their school peers and model their findings mathematically.

Question: Will changes in the math sequence mean that students have less access to AP science classes in high school? Isn’t advanced math a prerequisite to some of those classes?

Answer: AP Chemistry and AP Biology require only that a student have completed Algebra 1 - which under the new sequence will be completed by the end of 9th grade. The College Board - the entity that administers AP tests - recommends geometry (10th grade) and completion or concurrent enrollment in algebra 2 (11th grade) as a prerequisite to AP Physics 1. Some high schools in the district have had their own prerequisites for AP science courses.SFUSD is working with these schools to better align prerequisites to the new Common Core Math progression.

Question: Can students get enough advanced math under the new sequence to prepare them for admission to and success in demanding STEM college programs and careers?

Answer: Yes, students can complete AP Calculus (AB or BC) or AP Statistics during their high school career with this new sequence.

Question: There is concern that doubling up on math classes toward the end of high school is unduly stressful for students. Is there any research pointing to the impact on students of this compressed approach?

Answer: Compression of material is not optimal for every student, but may be necessary if completion of calculus in high school is a student’s goal. The Common Core State Standards lay out four years of high school math curriculum that would have a student complete up through precalculus. Skipping content is not a possibility because all of the content included in the standards is needed for success in subsequent courses. Therefore, students who take calculus as seniors must either compress or double up (taking algebra and geometry simultaneously), at some point in their high school career. Compressing algebra 2 and precalculus is the most desirable of the options because it both delays compression to when students are more mature and the content within those two courses lends itself to a combination course.

In SFUSD, Washington HS has offered an algebra 2/precalculus compression course for a number of years. Of the students who take that course, approximately 75% of the students go on to take calculus the subsequent year. Approximately 25% of the students go on to take a full precalculus course the following year. Essentially all students are choosing to continue to take mathematics. Even those students who have made the choice not to move on to calculus, are deciding to spend more time on precalculus topics and develop a deeper understanding of the content.

Part 3

This is the final installment in a three part series we have devoted to discussing Common Core Math curriculum


PPS-SF staff recently met with Lizzy Hull Barnes, Program Administrator for Mathematics for the SFUSD Stem Initiative, and Jim Ryan, STEM Executive Director. Afterward, PPS-SF shared some data and updates about SFUSD’s implementation of Common Core Math in the July 2 Scoop Newsletter and July 9th Scoop Newsletters and launched the I Heart Math campaign to invite our 7,000+ newsletter recipients to share questions and comments about the new approach to teaching and learning math. The third installment of this effort includes a new update on teacher professional development and more answers to your burning questions!

Math Update: Stanford to Support Common Core Math Professional Development in SFUSD

Researchers from Stanford will work with middle school math teachers in SanFrancisco to develop their capacity to conduct professional development for the teachers in their schools. This project will be led by Dr. Hilda Borko, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education. The work is supported by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Professor Borko will be working with two schools next year. This work will get started in earnest during the math summer institute on August 5-8th, where 400 teacher leaders from all schools will be gathering in preparation for this coming school year.

Questions for SFUSD Math Department from PPS-SF's Parent Network

Question: What happens if it doesn't work? Even though the district has an Office of Family Voice and a Parent Complaint process, it's really unclear what to do if things go wrong (with math in a particular classroom or school).

Answer: As a first step, honestly and respectfully communicate specific concerns to your child’s classroom teacher. Site personnel (teacher, department chair, principal, etc.) are best positioned to diagnose where any breakdowns occur. They will call upon the math department for support in diagnosing or remedying challenges. Parents are also encouraged to contact the math department directly ( “We pride ourselves on being able to respond to all who reach out to us.” says Jim Ryan, STEM Executive Director.

Question: ​Is there any way to share basic information about the SFUSD Prek-12 Math Core Curriculum spirals and assessments (math tasks). Families don't need to know the minutiae, but if they knew overarching goals of each big unit of learning, they'd be better able to support, monitor and advocate for their kids.

Answer: Next year the SFUSD math department will provide parent letters that outline mathematics goals at every grade level. These will be available in paper form through the teacher as well as in digital form on the math department website. Parents will also have access to all of the student material through their School Loop login. Detailed descriptions of the learning objectives for each unit in each grade level are available here.

Question: What about a constructivist approach to Math? What options are available for students whose primary intelligence is not mathematical and need more hands on approaches…especially in middle school? So far math has been all about passing tests!

Answer: The new standards include a focus on conceptual understanding, in addition to the traditional procedural fluency. Historically, procedural fluency was taught using teacher lecture: I do, We do, You do. In this model students were taught to mimic the teacher actions to solve problems similar to what the teacher had shown to the entire class. Given the new requirement that students understand why the procedures work and where they should be applied (conceptual understanding), the new curriculum requires that students grapple with problems before procedures are reinforced with the class. To many, this type of instruction is referred to a constructivist, where students construct their understanding through scaffolded inquiry. This is the basis behind the rich tasks embedded in the core curriculum.

SFUSD curriculum developers have employed a great number of problems that require hands-on activities (all schools have been supplied with the necessary manipulatives). How this differs from previous instructional frameworks is that math class historically began with an abstract representation of the mathematics (y=mx+b and m=(change in y) divided by (change in x)) and then these abstract representations were applied to specific "naked math" problems. Today, the goal of the math curriculum is for students to begin with concrete representations (a runner burns 10 calories per minute and runs for 20 minutes) and then move to concrete-abstract (represent the runner's calories vs time in a table and graph) before moving to abstract (write an equation in the form of y=mx+b that represents the runners calorie burn).

Thank You to Jim Ryan and Lizzy Hull Barnes for their responsiveness and enthusiasm in answering our questions about math!

In Case You Missed it in March: Superintendent Carranza Has Answered Math Qs Too

Superintendent Carranza addressed public concerns about the new math course sequence at the March 10, 2015 SFUSD Board of Education meeting. Worth a read!

Top 3 Takeaways:

  1. San Francisco is “the Mesopotamia of innovation and technology.” Our mathematics curriculum must be able to produce the world-­class graduates able to compete for local tech jobs. “Our previous curriculum didn’t meet the mark; the CCSS math sequence promises to do just that.”
  2. Our district’s approach to course sequence and compression is ahead of the game and unique in its teacher driven approach. Other districts will catch up later.
  3. High achieving math students are being served by SFUSD: currently almost $6 million supports the AP curriculum and assessments and dual enrollment is offered with City College for high school students seeking higher level math classes.

Redux: Additional Math Questions and Answers

Question: I'd also like to know what will be the high school math placement options for incoming 9th graders in 2016 and beyond. Will there be an Algebra 1 test out option in the future?

Answer: This decision has not yet been made. Superintendent Carranza and the School Board made the test available to all students this year as we transition to the new standards. A decision about subsequent years is still being determined.

Question: When can students double-up math classes and which classes can they double-up together?

Answer: The most logical points for doubling up will be either freshman or sophomore year. In freshman year students would take Algebra 1 and Geometry; as a sophomore, a student would take Geometry and Algebra 2.

Question: I'm also concerned about availability of community college classes as an option for high school students. CCSF only allows concurrent enrollment for HS students with a lot of HS credits - so that limits CCSF to HS seniors and maybe juniors.

Answer: Beyond the credit requirement, dual enrollment is generally better for older high school students (juniors and seniors) for a number of reasons. Primary among them is that they are better prepared academically, socially, and emotionally for college courses and a college campus. There are ample opportunities to take rich courses as freshman and sophomore students on high school campuses before they branch out into colleges in their latter high school years.

Question: I understood that sfusd no longer offers AP courses for its students. Please let me know if I am mistaken.

Answer: SFUSD continues to offer a rich selection of AP courses and there are no plans to reduce these offerings.

Question: My daughter will start 8th grade at Everett MS in a couple of weeks. We have just learned that our staff allocation for the promised math class size reduction is 0.2FTE. I'm concerned and confused, because though this allocation meets the letter of the promise technically, it is virtually impossible to hire a 0.2FTE teacher. I am wondering what other middle schools were allocated.

Answer: The superintendent and board’s commitment was to cap 8th grade math class size at 24 students. Additional staffing is a big part of that equation, though it is not the only factor. The principals and district office have worked tirelessly to make sure that we live up to this commitment and they have accomplished goal. Our promise was not to staff schools so that it was possible; rather it was to make certain it happened.

Question: Won’t this mean that every SFUSD math class will be taught to the lowest common denominator, particularly since the district has goals of reducing repeats by 50%? And if students can’t move up, where can we, as parents, expect the challenge for our math-proficient children?

Answer: The SFUSD Core Curriculum is built upon the use of “rich math tasks” in which math tasks are not solely procedural. Those tasks are often referred to as low-floor high-ceiling problems. This allows students who are below grade level to enter the task while also propelling more advanced students to above grade level math. An example of these types of tasks can be found here<>.

Question: We are unclear where the district finds the data that the vast majority of students who take AP math never take another math class.

Answer: The math system that has taken hold over the past three decades in which students are rushed through math topics so that they can reach Calculus as soon as possible has done STEM fields a great disservice. Even though the number of students who take AP Calculus in high school has skyrocketed (from ~25K in 1979 to ~305K in 2010), the number of STEM graduates from college has remained relatively flat. In fact, Dr. David Bressoud’s study for the Mathematics Association of America has shown that the majority of students who take Calculus in HS never take another math class ( It is SFUSD’s intent to continue our robust AP math offerings AND maintain student interest in math so that more students major in STEM fields in college.

Question: We further note, through Lowell’s own internal research, that top schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Berkeley from the last two years have only accepted Lowell students with BC Calculus on their transcripts—not other math options.

Answer: The current course sequence allows students to take AP Calculus BC. Schools will be able to offer either AB and/or BC Calculus depending on student interest and enrollment.

Question: Now that school has started, what do the numbers look like in 8th grade math? Did all schools hit the target of 24 or are some still working on it?

Answer: Yes, all classes are at 24:1 or less! One school, Visitation Valley MS, has classes larger than 24, but they place two teachers in each 8th grade math classroom creating a student/teacher ratio in the teens.

Question: Will the SFUSD provide the resources in the form of added teachers if need be to accommodate all students who want to double up next year? If not, then what is the criteria for who is allowed in? First come, first serve? An "A" in CCSS Math 8 to demonstrate ability to handle the two classes at once?

Answer: This statement regarding additional teachers is commonly misunderstood. While it is true that if students are taking more math classes, then more math teachers are needed. Yet, since students will not be increasing their total number of classes taken (6 periods at most high schools), the staffing for the school as a whole will not need to increase. That being said, SFUSD has invested substantially in math instruction, including math coaches and class size reduction at middle school, therefore SFUSD is not shy about increasing resources for math.

Students doubling up on math will be a student-family choice. Criteria will not be imposed by SFUSD. In the same way that schools work to fulfill all other course requests, we would work to have the staff/structures in place to support student course requests.