Middle School Mathematics Placement and (In)equality: Beyond The Visible School Curriculum

In urban public school districts that enroll a significant population of students of color, structural barriers should be removed so students can take advantage of the full offerings within any particular district. The literature shows that low socioeconomic students and students of color are disproportionately placed in less demanding courses because they are viewed as not having adequate preparation for taking more advanced mathematics courses in middle school. The study utilized an explanatory-sequential social justice design to collect data relevant to structures, processes, and discourses surrounding middle school mathematics placement. This mixed method research compares data from three schools providing richly descriptive qualitative data and specific quantitative data of the curricular system collected through interviews, document reviews, and enrollment data in three middle schools. The analysis from a critical race lens describes a curricular system of placement where structures and processes maintain an inequality of opportunity to learn for students of color. The analysis of placement findings show that students of color are significantly impacted by how standardized test results are used as a criterion and as a discourse for placement.