Two paths to algebra in California

California will not block eighth-graders from taking algebra if the governor signs SB 1200, writes Deputy Superintendent Lupita Cortez Alcalá in a letter to Bill Lucia of EdVoice. School districts will not be forced “into a misguided one-size-fits-all approach to math education,” she writes.

What it does do is provide for clear and viable pathways: one for students who are ready for higher mathematics (algebra 1 in a traditional sequence and course 1 in an integrated sequence) and another for students who would progress through the grade level standards as called for in the Common Core standards.

Placement of students in mathematics courses, based on their readiness, remains a local decision – as it should be.

. . . adoption of the Common Core State Standards with California’s additions presented some unique challenges. California adopted two sets of eighth grade mathematics standards: the Common Core set and a set that combined elements of the Common Core eighth-grade and high school mathematics standards with California’s own algebra standards. Unfortunately, the “Algebra 1 at Grade 8” standards have created confusion in our school districts as it is a unique amalgamation, different from Algebra I, and not supported by instructional materials or curricula.

In focus groups, teachers and curriculum said “they want high expectations and high standards for their students – but also flexibility to decide when a student is ready for higher mathematics, based upon each student’s classroom performance – not impersonal directives from the Capitol,” concludes Alcalá.

I think this means algebra-ready students will take Algebra I without any Common Core additions. I think . . . (A reform of years gone by, integrated math teaches bits of algebra, geometry, trig and stats each year till students have mastered the concepts. It’s lost popularity.)

About Joanne


  1. Told ya.

    And this isn’t just California. Every state has 8th graders taking Algebra.

  2. I feel like I’m shouting into the wind. Yes, all students CAN learn. NOT all students HAVE learned. Those that haven’t, aren’t ready for the higher level math and science classes.

    This is the problem. You can put students in many classes, even though their skills are weak, because “getting them up to speed” is possible. You “incidentally” provide missing background information in the context of teaching the higher level concepts. (I was told to do this by a consultant who wanted me to get more students passing grades in science).

    Trouble is, I don’t believe that anyone has yet found a way to do this in math or science, particularly those branches of science that are highly math-dependent (physics, chemistry, geology). As a result, we who teach those classes look incompetent, when we can’t manage to teach students who truly don’t understand basic arithmetic – like fractions and decimals, not to mention order of operations. For those students, we are asking the equivalent of having 4th grade students win the Olympics in track. Without preparation, training, or time.

    I don’t believe that the most gifted athlete could win his sport’s competition, if he hadn’t even learned the basic rules of his sport, spent his time when forced to be training playing with his cell phone and trying to sleep, and, sometimes, sneaked a “little herb” in between runs.

    Yet, I’m expected to bring that student along the road to proficiency.

  3. Educationally Incorrect says:

    >> Yes, all students CAN learn

    This is like saying that “all children can run”. Human abilities form normal distributions and what percentage of people can do something depends on what that something is.

    A high percentage of children can run
    A lower percentage of children run fast enough, or will run fast enough, to make the track team.
    A still-lower percentage are capable of winning.
    A still-lower percentage will ever be capable of running fast enough to become professional athletes in sports were running is important.

    If you take a statement like “every child can run” at face-value and as gospel, there’s no reason to think that you can’t train every kid to run 50 yds in 4.5 seconds, a mile in 4 minutes, or a marathon in two hours. Good luck with that.

    Similar for something like math ability.

    A very high percentage of people can learn to count.
    A lower percentage can learn to add and subtract.
    A still-lower percentage can learn to manipulate fractions.
    ……………………………………………master HS algebra.
    ……………………………………………master abstract algebra
    ……………………………………………understand the proof of Fermat’s last theorem
    …………………………………………….construct such a proof independently.

    “Every child can learn” may make educators feel like moral giants but it doesn’t help anyone understand actual problems or to develop real solutions.
    Making sta

    • Florida resident says:

      Dear Educationally Incorrect !

      You have omitted “Linear Algebra”.

      It is reasonably simple and logical, extremely beautiful,
      and it changes one’s view about the world around us.

      Your most friendly,

    • Jerry Heverly says:

      I wish I’d said that.

  4. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    Unfortunately, Ms. Alcala doesn’t know what she is talking about.

    SB1200 plainly says: “(3) One set of standards is adopted at each grade level.” No ifs or buts. No options or course choices. For K-12, not only for grade 8.

    Once this becomes a law, the plain reading is that the state can test students with ONLY ONE TEST at each K-12 grade level.

    Schools can teach and offer anything they want — they always had this *legal* right. What they will not be able to offer is an algebra STATE test to those who take algebra, a pre-algebra test to those who don’t, or even a choice of end-of-course tests to a high-school junior.

    Ms. Alcala may even try to pass regulation that will allow her (i.e., CDE) to offer a choice of such tests. Yet it will be sufficient that one fuzzie who thinks that “Algebra is stressing students too much in grade 8” sues, and this choice will be stopped in its tracks. And we have plenty of people in this state who think exactly that.

    What will happen in public schools at that point is easy to imagine — Algebra enrollment in grade 8 will drop like a rock. How many schools will be willing to have their kids to study one content and be tested — and the results published in the local newspapers — on another, even if formally “easier”, content?

    This is not about what Ms. Alcala wants, or teachers and schools want, or the public wants, or how they will like to interpret the bill. It is about what the law will clearly say.

  5. How many schools will be willing to have their kids to study one content and be tested — and the results published in the local newspapers — on another, even if formally “easier”, content?

    The ones that know their students actually know the easier material.

    Which means we won’t, thank god, be shoving students who don’t know the easier material into Algebra. Rather than shovelling all minority students into 8th grade Algebra on the off-chance that some of them may learn, schools will reserve algebra to the kids who can actually do it.

    But go ahead and pretend that this means, in a world where thousands of California kids are taking algebra in seventh grade, that no one will be taking algebra in 8th.

    You just mean that black and Hispanic kids won’t be taking it unless they are actually ready for it. And thats something for which all math teachers should be profoundly grateful.

    Incidentally, the Common Core clearly lays out an accelerated path, so I can’t figure out what you are hyperventilating about anyway.