Tuesday, September 30, 2008

California's new 8th-grade algebra rule gets some poor marks

from the Los Angeles Times:

The new state policy of requiring algebra in the eighth grade will set up unprepared students for failure while holding back others with solid math skills, a new report has concluded.

These predictions, based on national data, come in the wake of an algebra mandate that the state Board of Education, under pressure from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, adopted in July. That decision won widespread praise from some reform advocates and the Bush administration, putting California out front in a national debate over improving mathematics instruction.

The policy also led to a lawsuit filed this month by groups representing school districts and school administrators. They contend that the state board adopted the new rules illegally. Their underlying concern is that the algebra policy is unworkable and unfunded.

The new study, released today by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., looked at who is taking eighth-grade algebra and how they are doing.

And there was some ostensibly good news. Nationwide, more students are taking algebra than before. Over five years, the percentage of eighth-graders in advanced math -- algebra or higher -- went up by more than one-third. In total, about 37% of all U.S. students took advanced math in 2005 the most recent year in the analysis.

Yet some 120,000 of these students -- about 8% -- are scoring in the lowest 10% on the eighth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress. Many thousands more are performing well below grade level.

And when students perform poorly in a math course where they don't belong, no one benefits, said Tom Lawless, a senior fellow at Brookings.

Across the country, "you have 20,000 kids sitting in algebra and geometry classes and they don't know how to multiply and divide," Lawless said. "That's an absurd situation. They're not going to learn anything. And the kids who are sitting next to them, who are well prepared, are not going to learn anything either" because their learning will be slowed down.

On average, there are at least two students in every eighth-grade algebra class with second-grade math skills. That number rises in urban school systems where these students are more likely to attend overcrowded schools with teachers who are less experienced and less likely to have math degrees or college-level advanced math. These students also are disproportionately low-income minorities.

For many, algebra has become a civil rights issue. Students who take algebra early have a leg up on college and career. And minorities and the poor have a glaringly lower enrollment rate in early algebra. But just taking the course is not enough
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You can finish reading the article here.

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