Out of the equation

To conform with Common Core Standards, California has dropped eighth-grade algebra as a goal for all students. A bill sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk requires schools to teach pre-algebra to all eighth graders, regardless of ability, write Ze’ev Wurman and Bill Evers, who helped write state standards 15 years ago, in City Journal.

SB 1200 . . . would prohibit schools from offering any options in mathematics, even to high school students. The bill insists that only “one set of standards” be offered at “each grade level” across the entire K–12 span.

Since the late 1990s, California has worked hard to raise math achievement to international levels, they write.

. . . the state boasts the highest percentage of students taking algebra by eighth grade in the United States—68 percent, a fourfold increase over 15 years. Fifty-three percent of California eighth-grade algebra takers tested “proficient” or “advanced” on the California Standards Test this past academic year, up from just under 40 percent in 2002.

California changed math curriculum to introduce pre-algebra concepts as early as third grade, approved new math textbooks and trained teachers, Wurman and Evers write. If SB 1200 becomes law, that effort will be abandoned.

Algebra-ready eighth graders could take algebra under the Common Core regime, writes John Fensterwald on EdSource. There will be an accelerated path to algebra, according to Bill Honig, who chairs the state education board’s commission on implementation of Common Core. California and other states will have to design new Algebra I (or integrated math) standards based on Common Core to fit the new tests.

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  1. Funny, my post today over at my blog, “Yearning For Some Joy of X” is about Algebra I and how much fun I’m having as I re-take it with my 7th and 8th grade students. I’m not surprised that it’s being dropped as a requirement, but what irks me is when school’s WON’T offer it to 8th graders at all.


  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    California truly is a nuthouse.

    Hey, California, how about you provide courses to students based on proven ability to master content? So, if a student is able to take and master Algebra in 7th grade, you offer it to them. And, if a student needs to work on basic math skills all the way into high school, you make sure they do that.

    Heaven forbid they treat students like human beings and individuals.

    • In the 80s, when I was an eighth-grader in California, my mother homeschooled me for the first semester and had me learn algebra on my own. I got all the way through the algebra book, so when I went back to public school halfway through the school year, my junior high school put me in geometry. Then when I did well in geometry, they arranged to bus me and another student to the high school for math the following (ninth-grade) year. I moved to another state during the summer, but what California is considering now is light years away from how my junior high handled advanced math students a little over 20 years ago.

  3. I’m willing to bet that a significant fraction, perhaps even a majority, of the 68% of kids taking algebra by 8th grade are really taking “algebra-lite” or “algebra-in-name-only”.

  4. Stacy, you’re just talking CRAZY TALK. How can we treat them like students in the socialist, communitarian state that is California?

    Dear Leader will *not* take kindly to your words.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    Treating students as individuals is actually very hard administratively. Since different students learn at different rates, they will constantly be moving into different learning pods. Scheduling teachers and rooms for a constantly changing structure of students is impossible.

    The question is just how individual we can realistically be. Right now we “solve” the problem by keeping a heterogeneous group of students in the same room for the entire year while at the same time instructing the teacher to “differentiate instruction” for the different students. Usually, it doesn’t work. The teacher teaches to the middle, the slower students are lost, and the faster ones aren’t terribly challenged. But at least we can pretend that we are being democratic and inclusive.

  6. Actually, this gets back to tracking or grouping students by ability. When I was in middle school (grades 7-8 in my day), testing determined stanine scores (1 being the lowest and 9 being the highest), and by definition students who wanted to take algebra I (we’re talking late 70’s here) were required to have a stanine (in math) of 4-6 (or higher than 6), or permission from the teacher after a discussion with your parents.

    Here is something which is somewhat real life…while working on my computer yesterday, a woman between 21-30 asked me for some math help, and for the most part, it was unit conversion problems (which are IMO stuff which is middle school math at best). She was working on the problems as part of a requirement for being a dental assistant, but aside from the actual conversions (1 meter = 3.28 feet, etc), the math wasn’t anything actually harder than Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Divide (along with significant digits).

    Does every student have the ability to handle algebra by the 8th grade (in the United States)…No…States should start evaluating the effectiveness of their math problems, considering that many nations simply clean our clock in math and science (in general) by the time our students real high school.

  7. Crimson Wife says:

    This is only going to widen the gap between the kids of savvy parents, who will have their kids taking algebra 1 through EPGY, and the rest.

  8. Fred the Fourth says:

    From the City Journal link, I see that the sponsor is Oakland’s Loni Hancock. That tells me everything I need to know – this career Berkeley politician never met a rigid government control scheme that she didn’t like, and this is just another one.

  9. We follow the California state standards at our international school. We offer Algebra to grade 8 but also pre-algebra to eight grade students who have determined their readiness through various indicators on a rubric.

    With the decision outlined in the article above, I think that California is slowing down the accelerated population. I can understand wanting to develop basic skills first, but gifted learners need enrichment.

    This sound like yet another step to down the road of “one size fits all”

    • I disagree that the gifted learners need enrichment – that term, as I’ve seen it used, amounts to busywork and artsy projects. The top end of the academic curve, both the very smart and the super smart, need more and deeper material and a faster pace (acceleration, which you mentioned).

      The current system makes the (incorrect) assumption that all kids can acquire the same knowledge and skills in the same amount of time; that’s not possible. We seem to be one of the few countries who spend more money and more effort on the kids at the bottom, some of whom are trainable but not educable and some are neither, than we do on our brightest and most motivated kids.

  10. Gary,

    No one is arguing that gifted learners need enrichment, but in many cases, unless the gifted individuals have their own environment to learn in (like the I.B. program at my old high school), it’s usually not going to work.

    In many cases, students of high ability mixed in with regular or low achieving learners usually wind up having to help the regular and low achievers, while doing nothing to further their own education (I’ve seen this first hand myself).

  11. Oh, come on. Is anyone stupid enough to think that California is not going to teach algebra to 8th graders? 38,000 7th graders took the CST in algebra. And you all think they’re going to ban 8th graders?

    All this means is that schools won’t be penalized for putting 8th graders in pre-algebra, which means fewer unprepared students won’t be taking algebra. That’s all it means. Ze’ev is cranky about that, because he wants to push thousands of unprepared kids into 8th grade algebra on the off chance that we’ll find a few hundred who wouldn’t otherwise succeed.

    • You would have much more effectively made your point if you had not opened with an over-the-top insulting rant. I recommend you read “How To Win Friends And Inflluence People” by Dale Carnegie.

  12. I am currently student teaching in a California Middle School, working on a single-subject math credential, so of course this topic is of interest to me. From what I understand, this is supposed to be not about “slowing down” high-achieving students, but offering a math sequence that is more in line with international standards–that is, instead of having two years of algebra only, one of geometry only, and one of trigonometry/analytic geometry (optionally followed by calculus), you offer a sequence that mixes the topics together. Students who took pre-algebra in seventh grade (and some who took it in the sixth grade), will still move on to the next level next year, but the “next level” will be a mix of algebra and geometry, with some other kinds of math (e.g. statistics) tossed in as well. Supposedly this is more in line with how it is done in other countries, as well as other states that observe common core standards (most of them).

    Looking at the new standards myself, it appears that the new eighth grade math course will include the majority of what was in the existing California Algebra I course, along with a lot of new material on geometry, statistics, and “constructing viable arguments”. Trying to teach all this will be . . . interesting. I sure hope they provide us copies of a LOT of sample CST questions aligned with the new requirements, rather than having us fly blind all year. Whatever else you might say about the new standards, it sure doesn’t look like they’re being dumbed down.

  13. I don’t know how math courses are going to integrate algebra/geometry/algebra II/trig into a single course, since many students have so much difficulty with basic concepts, never mind algebra I (and somehow we think the students are going to handle geometry (proofs and plane) then algebra II/trig, etc.

    sounds a tad goofy to me