12th Grade Course-taking and the Distribution of Opportunity for College Readiness in Mathematics

12-Grade Course Taking
Minahil Asim
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto
Michal Kurlaender
University of California, Davis
Sherrie Reed Bennett
University of California, Davis


In this report we explore the patterns in mathematics course-taking among California public high school seniors. We describe what courses students are enrolled in and how course participation varies by key student characteristics, such as race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and performance level on the state’s 11th grade assessments. We also explore course-taking patterns for students eligible for California’s public four-year colleges—California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC), and for applicants and admitted students at the CSU and UC. Specifically, we find that:

  • Approximately 75 percent of all California high school seniors were enrolled in a math class in 2016, 2017, and 2018. However, only 47 percent of seniors were enrolled in an advanced math or Advanced Placement (AP) class, above Algebra II.
  • Asian, White, and high-income students were enrolled in advanced math courses above Algebra II at rates much higher than African American, Latinx, and low-income students.
  • Nearly 40 percent of schools had no seniors enrolled in advanced math classes; one-third of these 942 schools are traditional high schools representing 2 percent of seniors in the state.
  • Low-poverty schools (schools with a lower concentration of socio- economically disadvantaged students) had a larger percentage of students participating in advanced math courses compared to high-poverty schools.
  • Over 70 percent of all California high school seniors satisfy the conditionally ready recommendations from the college readiness signal on the state’s 11th grade assessment by enrolling in an AP or other advanced math course above Algebra II.
  • Schools serving more socioeconomically disadvantaged students (high-poverty schools) were more likely to have students satisfy the college readiness signal for math course placement than schools serving fewer SED students.
  • A significantly larger proportion of students who applied and were admitted to CSUs and UCs took advanced math courses in 12th grade compared to the overall population of 12th graders.
  • Latinx, African American, and low-income students who applied and were admitted to either the CSU or UC systems were underrepresented in advanced math courses compared to White, Asian, and high-income students.

Our findings demonstrate that although a large majority of college-bound students enrolled in math in their final year of high school, advanced math pathways were not equally accessed among our high school seniors. These disparities in enrollment patterns by race/ethnicity and school characteristics likely contribute to disparities in postsecondary access and success.

Suggested citationAsim, M., Kurlaender, M., & Reed, S. (2019, August). 12th grade course-taking and the distribution of opportunity for college readiness in mathematics [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.