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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Addressing the math achievement gap
A prepared workforce is essential to the growth and development of STEM
By Betsy McKinstry | March | April 2021
Located 70 miles north of Los Angeles, the Antelope Valley region is home to the groundbreaking innovation of the aerospace industry, which drives the area’s economy, with over 30 percent of the living wage jobs attributed to manufacturing/aviation and the industries that are vital to its operation such as the emerging computer science and cybersecurity fields. Aerospace accounts for the majority of jobs in the area. Yet, there has also been a high demand for STEM workers in government, small businesses, emerging renewable energy and other manufacturing markets. An educated and prepared workforce is essential to the growth and development of the community. Recruiting and retaining employees in this somewhat isolated geographic location with 65,000 commuters can be a challenge. The Antelope Valley Union High School District, a Title I district that serves the community as its only public high school district, covers 1,200 square miles and has an enrollment of over 21,000 students. There is an established history of successful partnerships with the aerospace industry and AVUHSD. It includes internship opportunities, guest speakers, scholarships, funding support for programs and student projects, and participation in events. This collaboration led to the creation of a STEM council more than 20 years ago to address the community’s education and workforce needs. The council has worked diligently through the years to support the expansion of programs that will provide a “homegrown pipeline” of students proficient in the STEM areas. The goal is to increase the number of students who pursue careers in aerospace industries and businesses within the Antelope Valley region. The knowledge of and relationships in the community will likely increase the probability for them to work and live in the area. The decades of work has resulted in the growth of engineering, computer science and biomedical pathways that includes three California Partnership Academies and three Linked Learning academies with a STEM focus. Enrollment in these pathways is approximately 3,000 students, which is helping to address the STEM shortage. The increased access to rigor and relevance in these pathways for students who are underrepresented in these professions and in these STEM majors in postsecondary institutions will help to diversify the profession.
Given the ongoing industry collaboration with education, the Antelope Valley area has had strong support for Career Technical Education programs, specifically with the academy approach of small learning communities that address academic and technical content through interdisciplinary instruction within a cohort model.
The team had a sense of accomplishment during a time of so many uncertainties. Their trailblazing efforts inspired them as they created and shaped this math/engineering pilot.
The AVUHSD program indicator data reflects that this model addresses equity by increasing the achievement indicators for Hispanic and Latino and African American students. Yet, the STEM academies continued to have the inability to cohort the math classes within their program. Often students did not take the necessary math courses that are needed in STEM professions. This was due to the range of math course placement at various grade levels from the math assessments. Although the number of students completing the STEM-identified pathways was increasing, the College and Career Indicator was not. This was due to the academic CAASPP scores. Additional factors to prioritize finding a solution needed consideration. Higher-level math courses are a pre-requisite to continue a pathway for STEM careers at the postsecondary level. Also, the district showed the same trend as the state, Hispanic and Latino and African American students continue to significantly trail white and Asians in meeting the state’s math standards (Cano, 2020). The math achievement gap for these students will decrease the opportunities for students in STEM industries and present an ongoing economic problem (Cano, 2020).

There had been success with higher expectations for students in the academies, for example, placing all students in Advanced Placement classes as part of their cohort in the Biomedical Academy. Students who never envisioned themselves as an AP student prepared for and took the exam. These students benefited from the support and community in the Linked Learning academy model. Knowing that students will meet high expectations with support systems in place, that STEM careers require higher math knowledge and aptitude. And that the cohort model builds relationships and community with the students who need it most, instilled the motivation to move forward, as did finding the answer to the essential question of “how can all academy students be prepared to be placed in higher level math cohort classes?”
Amidst the disruption of COVID-19, the district went ahead with the planned pilot of the interdisciplinary course, Functional Design through Algebra, from the University of California Curriculum Integration program. The course was offered to incoming freshmen in the engineering academies at Antelope Valley High School and Palmdale High School. These two schools have over 90 percent of their student population identified as Hispanic or Latino and African American.
Informing the feeder school students and parents regarding the program was an additional challenge with COVID-19. This was a new endeavor for the district, and disseminating information remotely without a person to directly speak with made it difficult. Personal calls to interested students from to encourage them to take the summer course were successful. Over 30 students enrolled in the course. The K12 Strong Workforce Grant funded the pilot because it aligned with the goal of both postsecondary transition and employment in an identified high-wage, high-skill regional industry. The engineering and math teachers partnered in teaching the course using the Google Classroom platform. The teachers spent several weeks prior to the class start date working collaboratively to develop lessons that integrated math and engineering concepts within a virtual classroom. It was challenging, as the intent of the UCCI course is to address both the academic and CTE content through contextual applied learning. The teacher teams had additional support from the AVUHSD Math and CTE coordinators. The team put together the materials needed for the hands-on math/engineering lessons from home. Guest speakers from NASA and the aerospace industry gave presentations to the students.
The math pilot program was successful with many lessons learned. The team had a sense of accomplishment during a time of so many uncertainties. Their trailblazing efforts inspired them as they created and shaped this math/engineering pilot. There was positive feedback from both parents and teachers. One parent shared that her son and his friends were all in the class. She was very grateful to have this summer program experience. The group worked on the assignments together and she enjoyed watching them create hands-on projects. She commented that the course was one of the best her son had attended, even though it was virtual. Teachers commented that they had already formed relationships with the incoming freshmen to their academy and were now aware of their math level beyond a test score. Students met their Algebra requirement, which allows them to take additional math courses and be placed in a math cohort as freshmen.
The district will continue to review the data from the students who attended to make improvements, and the plan is to add two more schools for the upcoming summer. The team is excited to move forward to provide the foundation that will lead to increased opportunities for the Antelope Valley area’s students.
Cano, R. (2020, Feb.3). CAL Matters. Mind the Achievement Gap: California Disparities in Education Explained. https://calmatters.org/explainers/achievement-gap-california-explainer-schools-education-disparities-explained/
Betsy McKinstry is the director of CTE and College and Career in the Antelope Valley Union High School District.
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