‘Tentative’ Ruling on 8th Grade Algebra in Calif.

By Sean Cavanagh — December 19, 2008 2 min read
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A California judge has issued a “tentative ruling” saying she’s likely to block a requirement that all California students take algebra in 8th grade.

California Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang, in a ruling dated today (Friday), sided with advocates who had argued that the state, in approving the controversial policy, did not allow for sufficient public input in that process. She also appeared to agree with their view that state officials had exceeded their authority in approving the mandate.

Tentative rulings are common in California courts, and, as the name tells us, they’re not final until the judge makes them so at a later date. There’s no word on when a final decision from the judge, who is based in Sacramento, would come, Gerry Root, a communications officer with the court, told me.

The case originated with the California state board of education’s decision in July to mandate that all students be tested in algebra as 8th graders, a policy that school administrators say had the effect of requiring that all students take that challenging class at that grade level. The policy was backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and many in the state’s business lobby, who argued that California children needed to be challenged early in school to have a better chance of moving on to advanced math and gaining the skills for college and the job market.

But the policy angered many teachers and school administrators, who said it amounted to wishful thinking, given that high percentages of California students struggle with 8th grade algebra. They also said it would heap heavy costs on districts, in terms of remediation and intervention for struggling students.

Some of the members of the National Math Advisory Panel I spoke to also voiced concerns, saying the mandate mistakenly assumed that students could be held to a high standard without adequate preparation in elementary and middle school. The California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators sued in September to halt the policy.

Judge Chang had issued a temporary restraining order in the case Oct. 28. In her tentative ruling, Chang explained that a public agenda before the state board’s meeting would not have alerted the public that the panel was considering the ultimate change to the algebra policy.

The board’s “contention that the public was ‘involved,’ ” in compliance with the law, Chang wrote, “is unconvincing.” She also said she was persuaded by the school officials’ concern that the state policy would require “immediate” systemic changes in education at lower grade levels for students to have any chance being ready for algebra as 8th graders, as well as in teacher preparation. “Those actions, of course, would entail significant costs,” the judge wrote.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.