News, Opinion, & Multimedia for Tamalpais High School

The Tam News

News, Opinion, & Multimedia for Tamalpais High School

The Tam News

News, Opinion, & Multimedia for Tamalpais High School

The Tam News

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The Math Behind It All



Behind all of the practice problems, homework assignments, and test scores, the Tamalpais High School math department is facing a major equity crisis. 

Equity gaps have been constituted in schools for decades, and often these systems can be found in unlikely places. Specifically, Tam’s math department has fallen victim to a biased system, where students of color and students with low-income economic status aren’t set up to take more advanced math classes, as a result of being placed initially in lower math classes.

This leads to bigger gaps in outcomes where these students might experience difficulty in applying to college or technical programs that require more advanced math.

According to the California Legislature informational website, “All pupils, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic background, deserve an equal chance to advance in mathematics.”

With the gaps growing, the District has a plan to right the system.



 Many of Tam’s incoming freshmen feed in from Mill Valley, Sausalito, and Marin City, however, many also transfer from Corte Madera schools. Because of this, every incoming student has a different social and educational background. 

All of these students with diverse backgrounds are placed in a ninth-grade math class solely based on their test scores and grades from middle school, due to the “tracking” system. 

Tracking is a system that places students in a class based on their perceived ability to complete a course, using past test scores, assignments, and grades. This system is followed by all Marin County schools. These scores follow a student from the beginning of middle school on to the end of high school. 

“Depending on where a student starts their math journey in middle school, due to the tracking system, their entire high school math pathway is different,” Marjorie Brindley,  Tam math teacher, explained. 

Tam High students will either take Algebra I in eighth grade or freshman year. This allows those who were given the opportunity to take Algebra I in eighth grade an advantage as they start their high school math career in Geometry I, rather than starting with Algebra I. 

However, students who feed in from schools in Sausalito and Marin City tend to have less access to advancement opportunities and additional support to excel in math programs compared to students coming from Mill Valley, due to a discrepancy in funding.  

Fewer funds means less opportunity to practice math in the classroom, so students who transfer into Tam their freshmen year, might already find themselves behind other schools that spend more time and funding toward teaching math.

When each student has a different background, and is provided levels of academic opportunities, how can the tracking system be equitable? 

This is the issue and question educators and policy makers are trying to work out. 



The California Department of Education (CDE) runs a continuous census through the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, that indicates the ethnic diversity of a school. 

“The Ethnic Diversity Index is intended to measure how much ‘diversity’ or ‘variety’ a school or district has among the ethnic groups in its student population,” the CDE explains.

This census found that Martin Luther King Jr. Academy (MLK) in Sausalito and Marin City has an annual ethnic diversity index of around 65 compared to the annual ethnic diversity index of 25 to 30 at Mill Valley Middle School. 

Ideally, schools would have ethnic diversity indexes of 90 or above, so while MLK Academy is still not at a target y index, it is clear that it is a much more diverse environment than Mill Valley Middle School. 

Students who come from more diverse schools like MLK, aren’t provided with the same resources as students from other schools. 

In other words, a student from Mill Valley Middle School is far more likely to be placed in a higher level math class their freshman year solely because of the fact that they came in from a predominantly white school, and therefore were given more opportunity. 

In distinction, a student who feeds in from a more ethnically diverse school like MLK is more likely to be placed in a lower level math class their freshman year due to a lack of opportunity and an unfair placement system. 

These are placements that are not necessarily based on academic ability, but are based on circumstances that students have no control over, such as the amount of funding their middle school allocated to the math program. 



“Because students have a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, some students have more opportunities, more financial resources, and more just general resources out in the community that allow them to get ahead in math,” Brindley said. 

“We do see disproportionate numbers of students of color in our Algebra Foundations and in our Algebra I courses,” Tamalpais Unified High School District (TUHSD) senior director of curriculum Paula Berry said. 

Algebra Foundations and Algebra I are not considered less rigorous than other math courses, however, these courses are quintessential to one’s math pathway, so having a gap in access and opportunity is a major issue that the district needs to work on, Berry later explained. 

According to Tam records presented by TUHSD data specialist Mehreen Ahmad, in the 2022-2023 school year, freshman students of color made up only 26 percent of Geometry I students and 32 percent of Algebra I students, while making up nearly 69 percent of Algebra Foundations students. 

“They might try to make it easier [for students of color] in a way because they would assume that [they] aren’t as smart,” junior Amira Almaznai said. “Especially if they speak another language. Even if they don’t speak the same language, they are still smart.” 

These kinds of equity gaps are not new to Tam. 

“It’s been happening historically, since I have been in the district since the 2000s,” Berry said. 

Brindley similarly shared, “I have been here for 19 years and I have definitely noticed this over time.” 



On Nov. 16, 2016, California Senate Bill 359 passed and required all California schools to provide all students with fair and transparent math placement protocols. 

In response to the passing of Senate Bill 359, Berry introduced the Algebra Project in a TUHSD meeting of the Board of Trustees on Oct. 10. The Algebra Project is a multifaceted program of nine algebra teachers across the district with a goal of closing the gaps in equity that are prominent in the math department.

The idea behind the work of the Algebra project is to repair the disadvantages and inequities students have faced in the past, and have all students to a point in their math career where they are confident in their abilities. 

In order to make sure every student is met with the support they need to be successful, the Algebra Project is focusing on having smaller class sizes to allow for teachers to have more time with individual students, and implementing peer tutoring programs both in and outside of class. 

“We want everybody to end the year being confident with the content so that they can be successful in the future,” Brindley said.

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