Early algebra: California’s new Common Core math standards shouldn’t limit access for eighth-graders

Mar 23, 2013 by

algebraBy Paul Humphries and Manny Barbara –

The subject of when to introduce algebra has for years been one of education’s thorniest debates, and the California board of education’s recent shift away from promoting Algebra I in eighth grade — a 15-year-old policy — has intensified the discussion.

We worry the board’s decision will send the message that expectations for students are being lowered. But we also believe the state board’s action is being misunderstood to mean that students should not take Algebra I in eighth grade, and that there won’t be an accelerated option as part of the new Common Core state standards being implemented beginning in 2014.

On the contrary, board members have stressed that the new policy does not eliminate the option for algebra in eighth grade. Students can still choose it if they are ready, and educators must continue to encourage it.

As longtime proponents of early algebra, we don’t want to see the state standards watered down. But we feel confident that California can continue to ensure that all students who are ready for Algebra I in eighth grade have access to the class.

Here’s why this matters so much: If a student masters Algebra I in eighth grade, he or she can then take geometry in ninth grade, Algebra II in 10th grade, pre-calculus in 11th grade and calculus in 12th grade. These are the courses that open the doors to top-tier colleges.

Taking Algebra II in particular is a must for students to complete the requirements,


known as A-to-G, needed for entry to the University of California and California State University campuses. A student can complete the A-to-G requirements without mastering Algebra I in eighth grade, but there’s greater likelihood of success when a student does so.

California’s new standards were designed to line up with the national Common Core math standards, adopted by 48 states, which do not include the expectation of Algebra I in eighth grade. They recommend taking algebra when a student is ready.

Many students will, in fact, be ready to take Algebra I by eighth grade. That’s why the criteria schools and districts use to determine student access to the course are so crucial. Districts need to have clear and objective criteria for placement based on multiple measures, including data like test scores, as well as grades and teacher recommendations. Otherwise, they risk misplacing students and inadvertently thwarting their college options.

The years-long push for Algebra I in eighth grade has made a difference in California. Enrollment for African-American and Latino students skyrocketed over the decade, as did proficiency.

However, only 40 percent of Latino and African-American students in grade 8 algebra showed proficiency in the subject after taking the class. Clearly, at least some of these kids weren’t ready to take the course.

So if early introduction is to be successful, students need tools to succeed. That’s why the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, which has led the early algebra initiative, created Stepping Up to Algebra. This summer program has successfully prepared 4,000 struggling math students entering eighth grade for Algebra I. We have made great strides; we don’t want to risk losing that momentum.

If California is serious about restoring schools to the nation’s top ranks and investing in the future workforce, academic preparation and rigor at a younger age need to be part of the equation. While Common Core standards are expected to provide that rigor, they do not preclude exposing students who are ready to Algebra I in eighth grade. Exposing more students raises the academic bar for all.

via Early algebra: California’s new Common Core math standards shouldn’t limit access for eighth-graders – San Jose Mercury News.

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