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6 Districts To Require Algebra, Geometry for All Students

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Washington--Six public-school districts next fall will begin an effort to raise college-going rates among the disadvantaged by requiring all students to take algebra and geometry courses before graduating from high school.

Under an $8.85-million project developed by the College Board, the districts will require that during the 1991-92 academic year, all 8th graders take pre-algebra.

College Board officials and district representatives said at a news conference here last week that the project is designed to:

Increase the college-participation rates of disadvantaged students, particularly minorities, by raising their aspirations for college and by emphasizing math.

Prove to elementary and secondary teachers and administrators that all students can learn.

Provide a practical example for the accomplishment of the national education goals.

Be adaptable to other districts. "The proof of our success will be in the numbers," said Donald M. Stewart, the College Board's president. "Have we raised the college-going aspirations of the students involved? Have we raised the college- going rates in these districts? That's what we are aiming for."

"We believe that the project re flects the ideal process for education reform: a partnership between local, school-centered efforts and national expertise that will allow students to reach desired educational outcomes in the ways that best fit the broad range of learning needs," Mr. Stew art added. "While mathematics and guidance are only a beginning, they are the levers to make the critical changes necessary for true educa tion reform which schools can tailor to their specific needs."

Mr. Stewart noted that each of the districts has a high proportion of mi nority and low-income students who could benefit from intensive math in struction.

"We wanted to work in tough areas, and we wanted to work with superintendents who were visionar ies and boards that were willing to go out on a limb," he said.

Mathematics a Factor

The project, which uses a College Board-developed teaching method called "Algebridge" that links numerical and conceptual mathemat ics, is based on research commisL sioned by the board and conducted by Pelavin Associates, a Washing ton, D.C.-based research firm.

In its study, Pelavin found that students who planned to attend col lege early in their school careers and who took algebra and geometry courses went on to college and per sisted at their studies there at high er rates than did students who did not. Those findings remained con stant across racial lines. -

College-attendance rates for stu dents who took algebra and geometry in high school were 80 percent for blacks, 82 percent for Hispanics, and 83 percent for whites, the study said.2

However, when all students were taken into consideration, 58 percent of white students attended college within four years of high-school graduation, while 47 percent of black and 45 percent of Hispanic students did so.

The firm analyzed the education al attainment of 15,941 students be tween 1980 and 1986.

"Algebra seems to be the gatekeep er that causes so many to go the other way," said Don R. Roberts, superin tendent of the Fort Worth schools. The College Board's announceent comes as educators nationwide are grappling with issues surround ing the direction of education reform and as college officials maintain that many high-school graduates are not prepared for college-level work.

Indeed, starting next fall, several colleges and universities will fully im plement admissions standards that call for prospective students to have taken college-preparatory courses in mathematics, science, and English in an effort to admit better prepared stu dents. In the last several months, a number of colleges have announced that they will adopt similar stanrds. (See Education Week, May 15, 1991. Representatives of the school dis tricts attending the news conference acknowledged that their students were not as well versed in mathe matics as they could be, and said that Equity 2000 will complement local efforts to improve instruction and motivate students.

Jeanette Mitchell, president of Lhe Milwaukee school board--hose district includes the nation's first choice program involving pri vate schools and which hopes to es tablish a school solely for young black males--said the district's par ticipation is "an opportunity to gain be on the cutting edge."

The College Board will evaluate the project regularly to determine which of its parts can be easily repli cated in other districts.

The financial supporters of the project are the Ford Foundation; the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest fund; the Amon G. Carter Founda tion; the General Electric Founda tion; the Meadows Foundation; and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation.

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