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Algebra for Eighth Graders?

The typical response by schools to the above question seems to be of two types:

  • Only those eighth-grade students "ready" for algebra should take algebra
  • All eighth grade students should take algebra...ready or not
The decision is not an easy one, as placement errors are made either way... as "readiness" is an elusive criteria. Plus, it seems that key information and relevant questions are ignored. For example, is performance in grade seven mathematics a good indicator of performance in algebra? Or, is a placement test (e.g. Orleans-Hanna) accurate in its results...for a specific school? And, do schools collect cummulative data on their placement decisions and subsequent results? In my experience, I have found that the answer to these three questions usually is "no."

Yet, nationally, a shift is occurring. In 2000, 27 percent of the nation's eighth-graders took algebra (or an even higher level course). In 2005, this figure had risen to 42 percent.

Why this increase? Many feel that non-algebra eighth-graders are locked out of future math-science options (e.g. AP calculus, AP physics). Or, perhaps our students are better prepared nowdays by the end of grade seven (despite what states' performance-based assessments show). But, this increase also might reflect a competetive attitude of keeping up with the Jones...too often on the parents' part.

The above data showing the increase is startling. Unfortunately, it did not include successful passage rate for the grade-eight students taking algebra....or the number of students who had to drop out mid-year...or the number of students who survived and then had difficulty with the next mathematics course...or teacher reports about how their algebra courses involving eighth-graders had to be "watered-down"...

Source: J. Mathews' "Adding Eighth-Graders to the Equation," Wash Post, 3/12/07