Opinion
Mathematics Letter to the Editor

When it Comes to Algebra, Students Still Not Equal

March 07, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

EdSource, an education nonprofit located in California, just released highlights from its recent report, “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better.” This study is about algebra preparedness and success, and it provides insight into the achievement gap in terms of algebra. It has implications for every state (Report Roundup, Feb. 23, 2011).

What makes this study so informative is that California has a unique state test, the algebra California Standards Test, or CST, given typically in the 8th or 9th grade. No other state has the ability to provide this type of data and insight because no other state gives such a rigorous algebra test at these grade levels. So while the data are from California, the implications span the country.

Algebra is stressed in California. Instead of a grade-level state test, the state’s 8th graders take either a general math test or an algebra test, at the school’s discretion. On the one hand, students may take an algebra-prep course in grade 8, and then take the general math CST; a second option entails taking a rigorous algebra course in grade 8 followed by the algebra CST.

The findings of this study are that whites and higher-socioeconomic-status students were more likely to get that extra year of preparation in 8th grade before taking algebra. For example, among students scoring “high basic” in 7th grade on the state test, 49 percent of whites, 59 percent of African-Americans, and 62 percent of Hispanics took the algebra CST in 8th grade. Similarly, among students scoring high-basic in 7th grade on the state test, 45 percent of students from schools with a higher “school characteristic index” (basically, higher socioeconomic status, or SES) took the algebra CST in 8th grade, compared with 71 percent of lower-SES students.

So what was the outcome? As common sense would tell us, students who got that extra year of preparation were far more likely to be successful in algebra. For students who scored high basic in 7th grade and then got an extra year to prepare for algebra in 8th grade, only 7 percent scored far below basic or below basic on the 8th grade test. In contrast, the students who jumped ahead to algebra in 8th grade had a rate of 38 percent scoring at these lowest two categories. In lay terms, nonwhite and poorer students were far more likely to be put into a sink-or-swim situation, with the much higher probability of sinking.

Bernice German

Boulder, Colo.

A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as When It Comes to Algebra, Students Still Not Equal

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Mathematics Q&A Teacher Group Wants a Focus on Low Math Performance, Too
A teacher-led nonprofit releases recommendations focus on how to avoid “math aversion” in middle school.
5 min read
Photo of teacher in front of class.
E+ / Getty
Mathematics Video Make Math Instruction Better: 3 Tips on How From Researchers
Education Week's Sarah D. Sparks shares three insights on improving math instruction from this year's AERA conference.
1 min read
A group of high school girls work together to solve an algebra problem during their precalculus class.
A group of high school girls work together to solve an algebra problem during their precalculus class.
Allison Shelley for All4Ed
Mathematics 3 Ways to Strengthen Math Instruction
Educators offered advice on how teachers can make math seem more relevant and engaging.
3 min read
A kindergarten teacher leads a small group in a math activity.
A kindergarten teacher leads a small group in a math activity.
Allison Shelley for All4Ed
Mathematics What the Research Says Ready or Not for an AI Economy: How U.S. Students Stack Up
"Artificial intelligence has triggered a global talent race," an expert says, and American students lack the data skills for it.
4 min read
Illustration of city buildings with financial, job, data, technology, and statistics iconography.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty