The Algebra Divide: Essentials on Education Data and Analysis from Research Authority AEL

District Administration, October 2003 | Go to article overview

The Algebra Divide: Essentials on Education Data and Analysis from Research Authority AEL


Algebra is a gateway to better math scores on standardized tests, higher math courses, and college attendance. Several studies have now established these benefits. Yet in districts or states that do not require algebra for graduation from high school, many students never study it, including a disproportionate number of poor and minority children. They will be at a disadvantage when the new SAT is administered in March 2005: the math section will cover not only Algebra I and Geometry but some concepts from Algebra II.

So, how can district leaders promote more and better instruction in algebra for all students? The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics advises administrators to "create the school climate and energize teachers and students in ways that will challenge current expectations and set new goals for mathematics teaching and learning." The latest research suggests some specifics:

Prep for success in the early grades National Assessment of Educational Progress results for 13-year-olds suggest that large numbers do not have the computational skills they need before they can take algebra. These skills should be mastered during the elementary grades, starting with pre-math skills in kindergarten, when many black and Hispanic students already trail their white and Asian counterparts on tests of early math skills. Students should also be introduced to algebraic concepts during the elementary grades so that they are prepared to make the middle-school "leap" to algebra's more abstract language.

Offer algebra in eighth grade The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and those who have analyzed the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study agree that students need algebra by the end of eighth grade if they are to achieve high standards. A recent study conducted by Nora Hall at George Mason University found that students who took algebra in the eighth grade were more likely to continue taking high-level mathematics courses throughout high school than students who took algebra in the seventh or ninth grades. The Southern Regional Education Board Assessment of Seniors found that students who said they took at least one semester of Algebra I in the sixth, seventh or eighth grade generally scored better in math. Nationally, only 27 percent of all white and Asian-American eighth-graders take Algebra 1, and just 20 percent of Latinos and African-Americans.

Recruit or develop qualified math teachers Students achieve higher math scores when their middle school and high school teachers major in the subject, but the 1999 TIMSS-R showed that only 41 percent of U. …

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