# Dallas Honors Club

### In the name of equity, most students in Dallas math classes are now honors students. They're also failing to reach grade level standards in math.

*I am trying a new experiment with this post, which is a version of Thursday’s Spiel. This topic lends itself to graphs, numbers, and data, so I thought it might benefit from a written treatment in addition to the audio version available on the The Gist podcast*.

The City of Dallas has identified a problem and come up with a solution. Black and Hispanic students were under-enrolled in advanced math classes. In 2019, the district came up with a fairly simple fix: enrollment in advanced math would lo longer be dependent on teacher recommendations and parental requests. Students who did well on state exams would automatically be enrolled in advanced math, with the option to “opt-out” should they chose to. Few chose to.

This year the entire state followed suit, which resulted in laudatory national coverage, stemming from a Dallas Morning News report which framed “opt-out”advanced math classes as a triumph of equity and a blow against implict bias.

The new policy adopted by the Dallas Independent School district did prompt a significant enrollment increase in honors math classes among the intended beneficiaries of the policy.

# Honors For All

It’s undeniable that the enrollment number of Black and Brown students has gone up in advanced classes. If that’s the standard to judge success, it’s been achieved. They have achieved so much “success” in determining who qualifies as an advanced student, that starting in 6th grade, most students in the Dallas Independent School District are designated as advanced. The district's demographics, with Hispanic pupils comprising over 70% of students, Black students making up another 20%, and white students accounting for 5% , mean it is now *uncommon* for a student *not* to be enrolled in an honors math course.

Does this remedy the problem? It depends on how the problem is defined. MSNBC, in an article titled:

cites a study that makes a strong case that Hispanic and Black students were being underrepresented in classes in which white and Asian students were enrolled.

E3 Alliance, an education transformation group based in Austin, Texas, took a close look at Texas’ standardized test results. Using test results for 2014-15 fifth graders, they studied the students whose math scores were in the top quintile (90%-100%) to see if they had taken Algebra 1, according to Jennifer Saenz, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives and Policy.

They found that among all students scoring in the top quintile, 90% of Asian students and 70% white students were in Algebra 1, compared to only 50% of Latino students and 35% of Black students.

The top “quintile” is the top 80-100%, not 90%-100%, which would be the top decile. I consider that more a word problem than a true math error. Journalistic innumeracy aside, the study cited seems solid enough; enrollment was disparate. But there are a number of confounding factors that could account for a disparity, and crucially the disparity itself, when addressed, does not necessarily lead to better outcomes.

# An Important Math Question Where No One Shows Their Work

None of these stories - and there were dozens chronicling the great Dallas Honors Equity Hack - answered or even recognized the fundamental question. Adopting an “opt-out” policy did place more students of color in honors classes. But DID THAT LEAD TO BETTER STUDENT PERFORMANCE? Did advanced math classes actually lead to more learning and greater accomplishment?

The evidence is not encouraging.

The NAEP, “the nations report card,” which tracks student achievement, indicates Dallas math students are doing quite poorly. The district scores are worse than other large districts and worse than it had been doing before the “opt out” changes.

Granted, the pandemic affected all test scores, and one could charitably argue that the gap between Dallas and other large districts wasn’t as bad as it was in 2019 when the “opt-out” program was put into effect. Yet the actual performance of Dallas’ “advanced” students was by any fair measure far from advanced.

## Dallas Passes Language | Fails Math

In a district where *most* of the 6th-8th grade students are in honors classes, less than half meet the state grade level standards for Algebra 1. The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, showed only 14% met grade level standards for 7th grade math. 8th graders did better, where 40% of the students “meet standards”, while up from 36% the year before, is far from the percentage of students in honors classes. The Dallas Independent School District deemed these students advanced, yet they cannot meet the minimum standards for their grade. Only 13% “master” the standards, which is the level of achievement expected from “honors” students. According to the NAEP, 1% of Hispanic students and 0% of Black 8th grade students in the district qualify as advanced.

As difficult as it is for a strapped-for-cash urban district with a diverse and often poor student population to achieve great gains, in a short time, the gap between what actually has been accomplished and how those mostly cosmetic changes were portrayed, is enormous. There were no critical voices looking at this evidence and saying things didn’t add up.

What blows for equity and against bias have been delivered? We did put more students of color in advanced classes, but they did not exhibit a level of learning that met the title. We are pretty good at changing labels and definitions, and telling a story of “equity”, but when the task is to document the actual accomplishments credited to this amorphic idea, the story becomes much more difficult. What have we actually done for the Black and Hispanic math students of Dallas with this change? We have told more of them that they are advanced. But what have we done in terms of their actual advancement? Theres a mathematical term for that, which is “zero.”