Monday, July 4, 2016

When Should Students Take Algebra I

Learn, Girl, School, Desk, MathematicsMost every state is using either Common Core standards or their own version.  Behind this is the directive that idea all students need to take Algebra I in either 7th or 8th grades. It is well known that students who successfully finish Algebra I are more likely to take higher math classes and more likely to go to college.  In fact, the more math they take, the more likely they are to go to college and complete the degree.

But the question is not that students should take Algebra I but when.  Is it valuable to have students take the class in middle school rather than waiting till high school?

According to the Brookings Institute the Algebra I taught in middle school may not have the same rigidity as the same class taught in high school.  In addition, starting students too early could hurt outcomes for disadvantaged students or students who develop later than others.  Although more students are taking Algebra I earlier, it does not mean that there is an increased overall achievement.

Basically students who are strong in math do well taking Algebra I earlier but those who are weaker in math do not do well and it can be harmful for those students. It is theorized that this is one reason scores are dropping.

It has been suggested that the many of the actual Algebra I classes have been watered down for middle school students.  Furthermore, it is not encouraging students to take higher level math classes in high school.  We know that if a student takes a math class beyond Algebra II, their chances of finishing college increases by two fold and we know that Algebra I is called the gateway class.

My question becomes "Why are we pushing students into Algebra I without checking to see if they are really ready?"  When I was in middle school, we were given a test to see if we had the necessary skills to succeed in Algebra I.  You could not enroll in that class without passing the test.  Students need to have a solid foundation in mathematical basics to pass the class and if they are missing these skills, they may develop a dislike of math because they are struggling.

Furthermore, students do not mature at the same rate.  Remember, the brain does not finish developing until a person reaches the age of 25 or 26.  This means that not all student brains are at the same stage of development.  Some students struggle with their understanding of math  because they have difficulty with abstract ideas.

Why can't we wait until students have a solid foundation in mathematics so they are ready for Algebra I.  Why can't a student take it in 10th grade rather than 8th so they can take a rigorous class rather than being exposed to a watered down version that does not prepare they for higher level classes.

The reality is that math is not a race to get as many through it as possible.  We must make sure students move through as they are prepared and have a good knowledge so they are successful and are willing to continue in math.  If students develop an anti-math attitude because we are pushing them into a higher level of math before they are ready, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

I would rather let a student take Algebra I when they are ready for it so they succeed rather than saying you are in a certain grade and you must take it.