California expects all students to take algebra in eighth grade, though only about half actually do. Under pressure from the feds to give the same math test to eighth graders, the state board of education, which meets today, could adopt an Algebra Lite test that would undercut the stronger students and frustrate the kids who haven’t taken algebra yet. John Fensterwald explains on the Merc’s Educated Guess:
Whatâ€™s forcing the boardâ€™s hand is that the federal Department of Education under Secretary Margaret Spellings has finally noticed that the state is out of compliance with No Child Left Behind. The law requires that states adopt content-specific standards in math and test studentsâ€™ knowledge of them.
California does that for grades three through seven. But in eighth grade, some students take Algebra I and are tested on it, while others take General Math, which tests sixth and seventh grade standards. So the feds are saying to California, â€œWe donâ€™t care what you choose, but pick one and test to it.â€
Former education secretaries and state board presidents are pushing to keep the algebra standard from being watered down. The number of eighth graders taking algebra rose from one third to one half because of the standard — and because schools get a boost in their state ranking if students take algebra in eighth grade. The pressure to improve K-7 math teaching will be eased if teaching real algebra is shoved back into high school. It’s too soon to give up on negotiating for a federal waiver.
Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters explains the history of the algebra fight.