College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Enrollment in advanced math courses increasing among Black ninth graders in Virginia public schools

December 2, 2020

NEWS RELEASE

December 2, 2020

Enrollment in advanced math courses increasing among Black ninth graders in Virginia public schools

Rural students were less likely to enroll, according to joint research from Virginia Department of Education and George Mason University.

FAIRFAX, Va.— Enrollment in advanced math courses for ninth graders in Virginia public schools increased every year over a four-year span for Black students and students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), according to a new study.

The report, conducted jointly by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and EdPolicyForward: The Center for Education Policy @George Mason University, also found that advanced math course enrollment among ninth graders in rural and town communities, regardless of race, did not increase. Statewide, more Virginia ninth graders enrolled in advanced math courses every year between the 2015-16 and 2018-19 school years.

The research conducted by George Mason Assistant Professor Samantha Viano and doctoral student Katherine Bowser in the College of Education and Human Development examined whether recent changes in Virginia graduation requirements are having the intended effects of access and equity for students by race, socioeconomic status, and urbanicity in the first year of implementation (2018-19 school year). The researchers assessed variations in course taking and test scores for all first-time Virginia ninth graders enrolled in Virginia public schools.

“This shows a clear trend of increasing access to the kinds of courses that prepare students for college, particularly for Black students and free or reduced-price lunch students,” Viano said. “But we don’t see rural students experiencing the same increased access to advanced math, illustrating another case of the urban-rural divide where rural students are not having the same opportunities that would prepare them for postsecondary education.”

Enrollment in Geometry courses increased by 14% for Black students and by 11% for FRPL students. For Algebra II courses, FRPL students increased their enrollment by 20%. Enrollment in Algebra II among rural students also increased 15% but enrollment decreased in Geometry.

Rural students had the lowest enrollment rates in Geometry and Algebra II with 37% of students enrolled in ninth grade across years compared to about half of suburban and city students.

Students in suburban schools had higher Standards of Learning proficiency rates on all state tests (not exclusively math courses) than students who attended schools located in towns, cities, or rural areas. The largest achievement gap was between city-suburban students (9 percentage points) and the lowest gap was between rural-suburban students (2 percentage points).

In 2017, the VDOE and Board of Education updated the Commonwealth’s Standards of Accreditation. This policy change represented the Commonwealth’s effort to increase equity and access to advanced coursework.

Implementation of the new graduation requirements began with students who entered ninth grade for the first time in the 2018-19 academic year, with cohorts who entered ninth grade in prior years subject to the previous graduation requirements. Virginian public school students have the option to pursue and earn one of two types of high school diplomas: the standard diploma or the advanced diploma. Students who began ninth grade in 2018-19 now need to pass the same number of end-of-course exams, termed “earning verified credits,” regardless of diploma type.

Media contact:

  • Jerome Boettcher, Strategic Communications Specialist, College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University, 703-993-6253, jboettch@gmu.edu

About EdPolicyForward: The Center for Education Policy @George Mason University
EdPolicyForward: The Center for Education Policy @George Mason University promotes equity and improved educational outcomes for all students, preschool through college and beyond. We are connecting research to policy and practice, developing and advancing effective and pragmatic solutions, and driving meaningful public discourse on closing the persistent achievement gaps in our education system.

About the College of Education and Human Development
The College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., inspires undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students to promote learning and development across the life span. Innovative, inclusive, and cutting-edge, the college and its 30 academic programs spread across three schools—School of Education, School of Kinesiology, and School of Sport, Recreation, and Tourism Management—prepare professionals who improve lives and make a difference for the community and for the world. The college is a nationally recognized leader in educator preparation, special education, counseling, and school leadership; prides itself in far-reaching expertise that includes sport management, human performance, athletic training, recreation management, and tourism and events management; and is home to 11 centers engaged in groundbreaking research.

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