The state Board of Education voted Wednesday to require first-level algebra for all eighth-graders, acting after a forceful recommendation by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The governor immediately applauded the board's action, calling algebra "the key that unlocks the world of science, innovation, engineering and technology."
Schwarzenegger fueled a political firestorm by issuing a letter asking for the mandate the night before Wednesday's board of education meeting.
The board had been scheduled to consider adopting a new eighth-grade math test proposed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.
Just half of California's eighth-graders currently take full algebra. Schwarzenegger wanted the state to become the first in the nation to make algebra mandatory at that grade level.
Critics say pushing students into higher-level math too early could increase the dropout rate. They also note that California already has a shortage of qualified math and science teachers.