Press Release

EdTrust and Just Equations Brief Outline How Students are Shut Out of Advanced Math Classes and Provides Solutions to Make These Courses More Accessible to Underserved Students


Carolyn Phenicie

WASHINGTON – According to new research from EdTrust and Just Equations, high-performing Black, Latino, and students from low-income backgrounds aren’t given the same access as their more affluent or White peers, despite showing aptitude that they are ready for advanced math courses. With estimates projecting that nearly 80% of jobs over the next decade will require STEM skills, it is paramount to ensure that larger numbers of U.S. students have access to math at a high level. As policymakers work to increase the nation’s competitiveness — while simultaneously addressing unfinished learning and supporting student mental health — they must consider increasing access to advanced coursework, particularly for this country’s most underserved students.

The report, Opportunities Denied: High Achieving Black and Latino Students Lack Access to Advanced Math, shows how those students continue to be shut out of these courses, details the positive impacts of taking advanced math classes, and provides policy recommendations for federal and state leaders to address the continuing challenges for underserved students in accessing these classes.

Relying on data from the 2009 High School Longitudinal Study (HSLS), researchers found that high-achieving Black and Latino students and those from low-income backgrounds face disparities in access to advanced math coursework. Those who had the opportunity to access those classes, however, experienced positive academic outcomes, including higher grades and high school graduation rates and increased rates of enrolling in college, versus their peers who are not able to enroll in advanced classes.

Among high-achieving underserved students, there were also meaningful differences in the school experiences of those who took advanced math courses: the students who more often had math teachers who set clear goals and school counselors who set high standards fared better than those without support.

“Taking advanced math courses in high school was so important for opening up post-secondary opportunities for me in high school, but too many of my peers didn’t get those opportunities,” said report co-author Ivy Morgan, director for P-12 data and analytics at EdTrust. “Our findings and recommendations help further our understanding of how our systems have denied Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds access to advanced math courses, and ways that leaders at all levels of government can address those barriers.”

Beyond the benefits for students at the individual level, greater access to, and success in, advanced math classes open the doors to STEM careers, growing the country’s 21st century workforce. Advanced math coursework, and its concurrent strong relationships with school counselors, can also increase college opportunities for Black and Latino students, even more important in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to end affirmative action.

“This report highlights the pressing need to address long-standing disparities in access to advanced math courses, which significantly affect students’ college opportunity and ability to pursue STEM majors,” said Melodie Baker, national policy director at Just Equations and co-author of the report. “Our findings reveal that systemic bias can suppress even the highest-achieving underrepresented students. However, policymakers and education leaders can work together to ensure that advanced math is not a privilege, but a pathway open to all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.”

The report also includes several recommendations on how policymakers can address continuing challenges in providing access to rigorous coursework for Black and Latino students and those from low-income families.

Federal policymakers, for example, can require states to set goals for Black and Latino students to take advanced math courses. On the state level, policymakers can reduce student-to-school-counselor ratios in districts with higher enrollments of Black and Latino students, or adopt automatic enrollment policies that require students to opt out of advanced classes rather than requiring them to proactively opt in.


This report is part of a series on advanced coursework. For a deeper dive, visit our advanced coursework hub, which includes one state’s efforts to increase access to advanced coursework.

About Education Trust 
EdTrust is committed to advancing policies and practices to dismantle the racial and economic barriers embedded in the American education system. Through our research and advocacy, EdTrust improves equity in education from preschool through college, engages diverse communities dedicated to education equity and justice, and increases political and public will to build an education system where students will thrive.

About Just Equations
Just Equations reconceptualizes the role of mathematics in ensuring education equity for students. An independent resource on the equity dimensions of math education in the transition from high school to college, Just Equations advances evidence-based strategies to ensure that math policies give all students the quantitative foundation they need to succeed in college and beyond.