Friday, July 11, 2008

8th Grade Algebra 1

There's been a big row here in California in the last week. Even though our state standards have said, since 1997, that 8th graders should be in Algebra 1, not all of them are. In fact, even though 8th grade algebra percentages have risen dramatically since 97, to the point where (if I'm not mistaken) just over half of 8th graders statewide take algebra, we're not where our standards say we should be.

Enter the No Child Left Behind Act. Apparently we're not following it because we're not testing all 8th graders in Algebra 1.

Here's some background information from the local fishwrapper: link, link, and link.

I'll be honest, I'm having a hard time getting worked up over this. While much of the rest of the developed world does have kids taking algebra in 8th grade, we have some cultural differences here and I wouldn't have any problem at all if California moved algebra back to 9th grade. Until that's done, though, we need to try to get our students to meet our high standards.

Yes, I know the world needs ditchdiggers, too. However, I don't like the idea of closing all doors but ditchdigging on a 14-year-old because we think that the kid can't achieve. When the President talked about the soft bigotry of low expectations, that's exactly the attitude he was talking about.


Fritz J. said...

I'm not sure I agree with the concept of forcing all children to take algebra in the eighth grade. Looking back I could have handled it, but children mature at different rates and that would have doomed some of my classmates to failure in the subject leading to failure in all higher mathematics. My graduating class consisted of 96 and I can think of three classmates who struggled with simple math until they were in the ninth or tenth grades and suddenly bloomed. While they were never math geniuses, they had finally reached the age where they could think in abstracts. And while she was several years behind me, my sister suffered the same problem. She was well into her freshman year before she was able to handle many of the concepts required by algebra. The reason I know that is because I was the one who had to help her with her math because she was part of the "New" math program. My parents took one look at her new-math text and threw up their hands and handed it to me and I had to help her from the fifth through the middle of the ninth grade when suddenly the whole thing jelled for her and she did well after that. While I do think some of her math problems were the result of the new math, some were also the result of her maturity level.

To sum it up, when we set a child up for failure through forcing them to take a subject beyond their ability to handle, we doom them to failure and once they believe they are failures, they will probably never get over it in that subject. I suspect that many of those--who claim to be failures in math--believe that because they were forced to study parts of it before they were ready to handle those parts.

Ellen K said...

I am so tired of timetables, deadlines and ultimatums. If we rush kids through the foundation courses in any subject, they are at some point going to miss out on a crucial detail which will trip them up later on. I would rather see kids remain at whatever level they are at until they achieve mastery of the subject than to simply push kids who may not have math skills or abilities placed into higher level programs. This next year, students who probably should not go beyond Algebra II are required to take PreCal. I am sure that the upper level math teachers will end up dealing with more parental angst and in class behavioral issue due to this.

rightwingprof said...

When I was in school, our curriculum (college bound) was:

9th - Algebra I
10th - Geometry
11th - Algebra II
12th - Trigonometry, pre-calculus

No schools offered calculus in high school. We were the generation that had solid geometry nixed. Our parents studied it, but we did not.

M.A. said...

I agree, the timetables (not times table :P ) need to go. We need to have high expectations for our students, but we can't keep setting them up for failure.

Two issues:
1) At my last school, students were enrolled in Algebra in 9th (unless they passed with A or B in 8th grade) and moved through the class progression (Geometry, Alg 2, etc) based on their grade level, not mastery. So, about one third of the students in my Geometry classes did not pass (the school refused to use the term "fail" - instead they used "incomplete") Algebra. This posed a huge problem in the classroom. I found out from a teacher that is still at that school (I went elsewhere) that those same students who still have "not completed" Algebra were now enrolled in Algebra II. This is not fair to anyone...the students who failed, the students who passed, the teachers.
2) Since Algebra was the "lowest" class we offered, we would often get transfer students (or students re-admitted following expulsion) in February or March that would be enrolled in Algebra. Since they were taking "Math 1" or some other form of general math at their other school (or juvenile hall), they were now entering an Algebra classroom after completely missing the first semester. This was another classroom nightmare.

Anonymous said...

I have a degree in engineering and after retiring from a communications-electronics career taught Algebra in the eighth grade for twenty years. Algebra should be the standard math for the nineth grade not the eighth grade. Only about twenty percent or less of the eighth graders are ready for algebra and the rest should be taught a comprhensive course of basic math theory and pre-algebra. Pushing students into algebra when they aren't ready ruins many student's desire to succeed in the field. Math is the only academic endeavor in which it is socially acceptable to admit one's inability to understand. Two reasons why algebra is being pushed in the eighth grade: Parent bragging rights and administration pride. By the way, most administrators don't have a clue about how to teach or what to teach or what goes on in a classroom. Too often, they listen to totally clueless college professors who would be destroyed by a class of average eighth graders. Enough said.