California students who fail algebra and repeat the course are pretty much doomed to fail again, a vicious cycle that wastes limited resources and precious learning time, according to a report released Friday.When I first started teachign algebra well over a decade ago I was told by an experienced teacher not to be surprised if a third of the students failed. "That's just the way it is." I was mortified by such a comment, but at the end of the semester about a third of my (8th grade) students had failed. I wondered if that were some immutable law.
Just over a third of students in the 24 school districts studied had to repeat Algebra I either in ninth or 10th grade, yet even after a second year of study, relatively few were proficient in the subject.
Of those who took the class in eighth grade and repeated it as freshmen, just 1 in 5 scored at a proficient level on standardized tests. And of those who repeated as sophomores, 9 percent were proficient.
"These results provide powerful evidence that school systems are struggling to successfully teach, or reteach, mathematics to students who are not already performing well in math by the time they reach middle school," said Neal Finkelstein, the lead researcher on the study, which was commissioned by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd. The Sacramento nonprofit focuses on policies and practices to improve teaching in California.
How are other states doing? How are other countries, especially countries that are known to outperform us in K-12 math, doing? It's clear that here in California we're doing something wrong, but I wonder if reasonable people could agree on exactly what it is we're doing wrong and how we could fix it.