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September 22, 2008

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."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:38 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Study, study!


I know that there's a push to get more 8th graders to take Algebra I here in Baltimore, with the Math Works team providing professional development for 8th grade teachers who either teach Algebra I or hybrid classes. And yes, one of the reasons is to push kids to be able to take harder math classes in high school, but probably just as important, it gives students a better chance at passing the Algebra I/Data Analysis HSA, which, of course, is a graduation requirement. For the kids who don't pass in 8th grade, they aren't pushed ahead into the next level of math in 9th grade; they start with their other freshman peers in Algebra I, but they have the advantage of being exposed to the material once before. I agree that it doesn't seem to make sense for students with 4th grade math skills to be in Algebra I in 8th grade...but does it make more sense to have those same kids in Algebra I in 9th grade instead? Ultimately, middle schools (and high schools, too) need the ability to offer choices to students so that they and their families can pick the path that they feel best suits their educational needs, and that includes being able to take Algebra I as an 8th grader.

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