Are students unprepared for algebra in eighth grade?
A national push to get more eighth-graders to take Algebra I may be hurting students who are now struggling to keep up in classes they are unprepared to take, according to a new report released today by the Brown Center on Education at the Brookings Institution.
While only gifted math students took Algebra I in eighth grade a generation ago, today 31 percent of the nation's eighth-graders are in an algebra course. The theory was that students could not compete in a global economy unless they were able to take advanced math classes in high school. Whether it is good to push higher math classes earlier has never been proven one way or the other.
Tom Loveless at the Brown Center looked at students who scored poorly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only long-standing national test, and found that many of them are sitting in advanced math classes.
Between 2000 and 2005, as the enrollment in Algebra I grew in eighth grade, there was a jump in the number of students in those classes that scored in the bottom 10th percentile on the NAEP.
In other words, there are roughly 120,000 eighth-graders with fourth-grade math skills sitting in those advanced eighth grade classes.
That isn't just bad for those students, Loveless argues, but also for the more advanced students who will be slowed down by students who are far behind.
"This is not a call to lower expectations for what students can learn," Loveless said in a statement. "Instead, we have to give more students the preparation they need to succeed in algebra."