A new Brookings study that is part of the annual Brown Center Report on American Education suggests that states have not seen the academic boost they expected from introducing Algebra 1 to a broader range of students in middle school.
This practice has been widely embraced in Georgia under the assumption that Algebra 1 in middle school better readies students for the more rigorous math now being taught in high school.
The study by researcher Tom Loveless seems to end up in the place that much education research does: The concept may haven been good in theory, but the execution stumbled because the Algebra I was watered down to accommodate weaker students who normally would not have qualified for advanced math in middle school.
According to Education Week: (This is an excerpt. Please read full piece before commenting.)
A new analysis, however, suggests that increased enrollment hasn’t led to higher math performance for states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The study was released last week as part of the annual report on education by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, in Washington.
Brookings senior fellow Tom Loveless tracked the number of students taking the 8th grade NAEP between 1990 and 2011 who reported taking an advanced math class, which could mean Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, or an algebra course “stretched over two years.”
Between 2005 and 2011, 45 states boosted the number of 8th graders taking Algebra 1, with an average increase of 5.5 percent more of those students taking a math course at the level of Algebra 1 or higher.
Mr. Loveless found no connection, though, between increases in the number of 8th graders enrolled in Algebra 1 and states’ average NAEP math scores, even after controlling for changes in the states’ rates of children in poverty, English-language learners, and black and Hispanic students.
In states that did not increase their enrollments, students in 8th grade Algebra 1 courses performed, on average, 9.2 points better in 2011 than in 2005. In states with rising enrollments, by contrast, students in 8th grade Algebra 1 improved only 5.2 scale points during the same period.
Mr. Loveless said the study suggests that advanced math in middle school may be “watered down” as more students of different ability levels in math take the course. “Algebra in 8th grade used to be reserved for gifted students; if you were a high flier in math, you were moved up,” he said. As taking Algebra 1 in 8th grade becomes the “new normal,” he said, gifted math students are being pushed to take the subject in 7th grade, and take a geometry course in 8th.
“It doesn’t matter what we do as the norm, there will be another class created for gifted [students],” Mr. Loveless said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog