Data Science: A New Math Pathway?

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In 2021, California educators released an updated draft of the California Mathematics Framework (CMF) approving Data Science as a substitute for the Algebra II graduation requirement. Data Science offers students a new math pathway that is more project-based than Algebra II and Calculus classes—with students using computer models for calculations so they can spend more time on analysis and application. 

For years, educators have debated whether they should implement a new Data Science curriculum that students could take for their third year of high school math in place of Algebra II. In October of 2020, the University of California Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) made a formal recommendation that other classes be taken instead of or in addition to a second year of Algebra. 

The updated CMF framework was a response to the demand for more pathways leading to careers in STEM. It also was predicated on the idea that adjusting the math curriculum offerings, in lieu of exploring the implementation of the existing ones, would address the disparity in outcomes among demographic groups. The assertion is that a more project-based approach to math supports students from different backgrounds because it facilitates more engagement and collaboration.

However, last summer, before the Data Science course was incorporated into California policy for high schools, the University of California University Board of Regents voted to reverse the decision, claiming that students were not being sufficiently prepared for college-level math without Algebra II as a statewide requirement. The CMF is now pending review. 

Michele Breen, M-A’s Math Department Chair, explained the broader function of the CMF, saying, “There is a list of twelve important mathematical skills as part of the California Framework, and the Math Department wants to make sure that students have access to these important skills.” 

The decision about whether or not to offer Data Science, or any other math class, is made at the district level. M-A is in its second year of offering a single Data Science class to seniors.

As to whether Data Science hinders a student’s opportunity to attend certain colleges, Breen said, “There are some states where Data Science would not count as your third year of mathematics.” Additionally, many private colleges and universities include Algebra II as a prerequisite to admission. 

Arminda King, a Data Science and Precalculus teacher at M-A said, “I think our Algebra II programs are really good at M-A. I wish that we could offer Data Science as an elective course for students who are really interested in it and maybe even considering studying it in the future.”

Regarding Data Science as an alternative to Algebra II, Breen said, “I think that a student who successfully passes Algebra II will be well prepared for what they need in college.” Breen is careful to draw the distinction between Algebra II and Data Science:  “Data Science and Algebra II are different courses with different types of skills and goals. ” 

Both King and Breen believe in offering students choice when it comes to math offerings. If the California state decides Data Science is no longer a viable alternative for Algebra II, Data Science will join Statistics and Computer Science as electives offered by the math department. 

Micaela is a sophomore at M-A. This is her first year in journalism, and is excited to write about different issues and events at M-A. In her free time, she likes to dance and spend time with friends and family.

Rose Chane is a sophomore at M-A and this is her first year in journalism. She enjoys writing about pop culture and issues affecting the M-A community. In her free time, Rose enjoys exercising, going to concerts, and spending time with friends and family.

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