Math and Graduation: Overview of SB 196 – Math Competency Initiative

This is the fifth article in a multi-part series about math in high school and college leading to completion of a degree or certificate. The first article focused on math and high school preparation, the second on developmental/remedial math, the third on math and STEM, and the fourth on math instruction innovations at Weber State University.

SB 196, Math Competency Initiative, sponsored by Senator Ann Millner and passed during the 2015 legislative session, brought attention to high school math preparation for college. The legislation defines requirements for the State Board of Education to establish math competency standards as part of graduation requirements from high school. The general intent of the legislation is to reduce levels of math remediation in college, as 40 percent of incoming freshmen at USHE institutions enroll in remedial/developmental math. The Higher Education Appropriations Co-Chair in the Utah Legislature, Senator Stephen Urquhart, remarked at the time, “This bill does a good job of making sure our students are prepared for college.”

For students pursuing a college degree after graduation, the legislation required the Board of Regents to define a specific qualifying score to demonstrate math competency for each of the following exams: Advanced Placement (AP) exam for calculus or statistics, International Baccalaureate (IB) higher level math exam, College Level Exam Program (CLEP) precalculus or calculus exams, ACCUPLACER college level math test, and the math test portion of the ACT exam. The legislation allowed the Board of Regents to recommend additional exams as well, which would also demonstrate math competency sought by the legislation.

In May 2015, the Commissioner of Higher Education, as authorized by the Board of Regents, submitted recommended specific qualifying scores to the Utah State Board of Education.  All of the recommendations were unanimously approved:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus AB – 3 or higher
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus BC – 3 or higher
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Statistics – 3 or higher
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher Level Math Exam – 5 or higher
  • College Level Exam Program (CLEP) Pre-calculus Exam – 50 or higher
  • College Level Exam Program (CLEP) Calculus Exam – 50 or higher
  • American College Test (ACT) – 26 or higher for the Mathematics Test

SB196 also called for a qualifying score to be set for the ACCUPLACER college level math test or an equivalent.  Since the ACCUPLACER is designed as a placement test and not an achievement test, it was determined the equivalent test should be the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).  The following qualifying score was set for the SAT:

  • Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) – 640 or higher for the Mathematics Test

In addition to these scores, high school students could demonstrate the math competency, as defined by this legislation, upon completion of required high school mathematics courses with at least a “C” letter grade.

The bill also allowed  for a senior student with special circumstances to fulfill the requirements of this legislation (as defined in State Board of Education rule). The legislation also does not prohibit high school students from graduating high school as result of not demonstrating the math competency defined by this legislation.

How do high school students fare with SB 196 definitions?

The Office of the Commissioner analyzed the grades, courses, and test scores of the high school graduating classes of 2008-13 (most recent available to USHE), and found 23% of those students demonstrated math competency as defined by this legislation.

A key contributing factor towards math success in college is how much math a student completed leading up to college enrollment—especially the last year of high school before graduation. Students who take math their last year of high school double their chances of math success in college, supporting the USHE recommended high school math courses approved by the Board of Regents in March 2014.

As this legislation is implemented, USHE will work to ensure needed courses are available for high school students to become college ready in math as well as meet the requirements of this legislation.

Some data for this research was accessible through Utah’s state longitudinal data system database administered by the Utah Data Alliance (UDA) which includes data supplied by UDA partners and the National Student Clearinghouse. This research including the methods, results, and conclusions neither necessarily reflect the views nor are endorsed by the UDA partners. All errors are the responsibility of the author. For more information please visit
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