Eighth grade Algebra plan gets poor marks

September 25, 2008 5:48:24 PM PDT
In three years, every eighth grader in the California public school system will be required to take Algebra. It has been a controversial mandate. Now, an independent research and policy group out of Washington, D.C. has come up with a report on eighth grade Algebra, giving the new law poor marks.

In 1990, only one out of six eighth graders was enrolled in an Algebra course. The Clinton administration set out to change that and enrolling eighth graders in Algebra classes became a national goal. It worked. Enrollment soared from 16 percent in 1990 to 38 percent nationally today.

The Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. took a look at the effects of this national push and found many students were not ready to tackle Algebra.

Some teachers report students lack many of the prerequisite skills, such as fractions, and percentages.

"These kids come to us already lacking those skills and those are skills that are before high school, those are not Algebra skills," said math teacher Angela Torres.

The report also found that when Algebra teachers have to depart from the curriculum to teach basic math, the students who already know arithmetic and are ready for Algebra lose out.

However, Belinda Ray, a Hayward Algebra teacher, believes putting off Algebra lowers students' expectations.

"We have to start preparing our students to be competitive in college and I think that's really, really important," said Ray.

Most Asian countries and several of those in Eastern Europe start to teach Algebra early.

The National Opinion Research Center asked teachers what changes were needed to better prepare students. In that survey, most teachers agreed elementary and especially middle schools have to focus more on mastering the basic mathematical concepts and skills.

"How do those gaps happen? We traditionally do not recruit or train elementary school teachers who are math specialists. Many other countries do invest in subject matter specialist teachers even in elementary school," said Merrill Vargo who works with public schools to raise achievement levels.

The study recommends setting goals now to make the transition to Algebra easier for all California eighth graders.

For more information about the Algebra I Success Initiative, click here.


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