My interest in redesigning math pathways dates back at least a dozen years. While working on improving student opportunities and outcomes at California community colleges, I came to realize how required mathematics courses — especially remedial algebra courses — were in fact limiting those opportunities and outcomes. This was true even despite the fact that the courses, in many cases, had little relevance to students’ college and career interests.

Dramatic changes have occurred since then, with at least half of state higher education systems involved in work to diversify college math pathways to align with students’ programs of study. K-12…


After years of debates over their validity, the SAT and ACT were removed quite abruptly last year from most colleges’ admissions requirements. Though their elimination — spurred by the cancellation of test administrations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — was temporary in many cases, it could become a permanent state of affairs for some institutions.

Caltech, for example, is using a two-year pause to study whether standardized test scores are a useful metric and should be reintroduced, and the ten-campus University of California system has decided to eliminate admissions tests entirely for at least five years.

Given the well-documented…


A recent report analyzing how and whether reforms to postsecondary mathematics are advancing equity carries important lessons for those of us working to reverse decades of inequitable math outcomes. Before turning to the findings of the report, from the Community College Research Center, let’s first consider the sources of math inequity.

According to Just Equations’ synthesis of expertise on the topic, the prevailing architecture of math opportunity is built on a foundation of misconceptions about what it means to do math as well as who can succeed in math. These assumptions create barriers for students who are traditionally disadvantaged in…


Work to address inequitable math outcomes begins in the classroom, but it can’t end there. Given the prevalence of policies like tracking — which disproportionately place students of color into lower-level, often dead-end, math sequences — math equity includes examining how students are steered toward math classes in the first place.

Whether in K-12 schools, community colleges, or four-year universities, evidence increasingly has emerged to show that math misplacement is widespread:

  • Large numbers of students who took Algebra in eighth grade have often been required to repeat the course in high school, even though many were considered proficient on algebra…

College admissions requirements send signals to high schools about what courses are valued. But when those requirements fail to change with the times, they can actually stifle innovation.

Take the teaching of data science in high school. The development of such courses has been stunted in virtually every state in the country, because they don’t clearly fall within the defined math requirements for admission to most public and private universities. One notable exception is California’s Introduction to Data Science course.

IDS, which I’ve written about here, here, here, and here, is a six-year-old high school course pioneered by faculty at…


On the surface, mathematics appears to be a set of truths, and math education a way of transmitting those truths — in the same way the law seems to be a set of rules, with criminal justice a system for enforcing them.

However, just as the criminal justice system has been called “slavery by another name” for disproportionately imprisoning Black people, our system of math education also plays a role in injustice and inequity. If justice is an ideal that can be distorted and misapplied, so is mathematics.

The notion that mathematics practices and policies contribute to inequity is not…


What a difference a pandemic makes. Just last week, the University of California system broke with decades of tradition by deciding to permanently suspend the SAT and ACT tests as admissions requirements for the system’s nine undergraduate campuses.

Evidence of the high-stakes tests’ racially disparate impact has been clear for years, as has research showing that high school grades are the strongest predictor of students’ performance in college. Still, it’s hard to imagine the university moving so swiftly without the forced cancellation of SAT and ACT test administrations this spring. …


As students around the country face unprecedented disruptions to their high school experiences, institutions of higher education are waiving once-rigid admissions requirements, such as test scores and grades in required courses. In some respects, colleges have little choice but to be flexible in the coronavirus’ wake: No SAT or ACT tests are being administered for the foreseeable future, and many schools are adopting pass/no pass policies. Clinging to standard requirements would not just disadvantage some students through no fault of their own, it would also imperil colleges’ efforts to fill their freshman classes.

But other policy responses that could also…


Diversifying the pathways students take through high school and college mathematics has the potential to open avenues to college for more students. That’s why many of us support efforts to expand math pathways to teach rigorous content in ways that are not only interesting to far more students, but also more relevant for those students’ lives and aspirations.

To meet high school or college requirements, courses like Statistics or Data Science can offer rigorous quantitative reasoning content to students who are interested in fields like politics, law, marketing, or the media. In most cases, the primary educational purpose of advanced…


The recent debate over California State University’s well-intended proposal to require an additional quantitative reasoning (QR) course for admission highlights the challenges of efforts to bolster mathematics preparation. And the CSU trustees’ recent decision to first conduct more extensive analyses bodes well for advancing equitable math opportunity.

For too long, math requirements have been used as a convenient filter to determine access to this school or admission to that program. Using academic coursework as an entry requirement sounds legitimate on its face. To avoid exacerbating inequities, however, such requirements must meet at least two conditions: (1) the topic is necessary…

Pamela Burdman

is an expert on college access, readiness, and success and founder of Just Equations — a project to re-conceptualize the role of mathematics in education equity

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