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Arnold wants to pump up eighth-grade math tests

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks California’s general math tests are too weak for the state’s eighth-graders.

Today, the state board of education is expected to approve a change in the eighth-grade general math tests, which, until now, have measured sixth- and seventh-grade skills. But Schwarzenegger wants the state board to drop the general math exam altogether and require all eighth-graders to take the Algebra 1 exam instead.

In 2007, about half of Oakland’s eighth-grade students took the Algebra I STAR test, slightly above the statewide average. About 36 percent took the General Math exam. Six percent took geometry (Not sure about the other 6 percent).

In a letter dated yesterday, Schwarzenegger writes:

The State Board must choose whether we align the eighth-grade mathematics test with our high expectations or perpetuate a two-track system: one for high achievers and one for those of whom we expect less. This fork in the road is a choice between California’s bold future and a status quo that is safe, mediocre and unacceptable.

And, this morning, California State University Chancellor Charles Reed wrote a letter with the same request.

It seems unlikely that the board will reverse course and drop the general math exam entirely, but do you think Schwarzenegger has a point?

image from herzeleyd’s Web site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Caroline

    All politicians should have to spend a couple of years teaching high-need students before they spout off.

  • Oakland teacher

    I don’t understand why people who have never been teachers, especially in an urban area, think they know what is best for the students. Amazing!!!

  • Teri Gruenwald

    I just don’t understand the reasoning behind this. Not all kids are Algebra-ready by the time they are in 8th grade for so many reasons. But one of the most important has to do with the fact that perhaps, just perhaps, many students aren’t developmentally ready for Algebra. Until a decade or so ago, California students weren’t required to take Algebra until 9th grade unless they were GATE-identified (GATE: Gifted and Talented Education), and those who were really advanced in Math, took Algebra in 7th grade and Geometry in 8th. And in most of the states of the US (if not all), Algebra is taught in 9th grade. Thanks to the Dept. of Ed. deciding that 8th graders should learn Algebra in 8th, there was a domino effect forcing the Language Arts curriculum to shift down. This is why we have Reading, Writing, and Math being taught to kindergartners and why 1st graders are expected to know how to read, write and do math on the 1st day of school in CA unlike in the rest of the US where 1st graders learn how to read, write and do math in 1st grade. In our very under-funded school system, you would think Schwarzenegger could focus on something vitally important, such as reducing class size to 20 for all classes, K-12, and not just K-3. And in the early grades, having class sizes of 15 to 1. But that would take too much of a commitment to the education of our children.

    In NJ, where I have many friends and family members who are teachers, at the middle and high school level, a large class is 24 students and an average class is 16-18. How about that? And they learn Algebra in 9th grade and start to learn Reading, Writing and Math in 1st grade. But they fund their schools.

  • Oakland Student Alumni

    I agree with the governor of California on this issue, even though I may not agree with his other decisions (like school budget cutting). The math standards for students in California, as well as the U.S. , is just pathetic compared to other countries like Japan or France.

    I live in an urban area and i find it sad how students in 11th grade have trouble with basic math. In my opinion, this is because the teachers are “babying” the kids when they’re in middle school. They underestimate abilities of kids which eventually causes the kids to fall behind. If the kids aren’t doing well, they should be giving them more practice. How else would students get better in math without practice? I’ve seen some of the baddest kids excel in math because teachers push them.

    In my opinion, algebra should be taught in 6th grade. Basic math should already be mastered in elementary school, not in 8th grade. Seriously, why spend 6 years+ teaching kids how to add 2+2? The educational standards of this country is just too low, and I believe the governor is doing the right thing.

    Younger teachers might agree with me. We aren’t in the 60s anymore. In my experience, older teachers have ALWAYS underestimated my abilities as opposed to younger teachers. We appreciate what the older generation of teachers have done for us, but you guys seriously just need to retire and let the newer generation take over. Stop underestimating and babying us!

    and to students who just don’t care, don’t stick them with kids that care. All you’re really doing by doing that is slowing down the progress of the kids who are putting in the effort.

    I’m not in GATE (and i never was even offered the chance to be in it, and i’m proud of that fact) and I took algebra in 8th grade, geometry in 9th grade, and then finished a college semester of Calculus 1 by the end of 10th grade.

  • Nextset

    Arnold is elected by the people of this state and is entitled to “spout off”. He speaks for the electorate.

    Of course, he’s european. He will approach this with a point of view not seen at OUSD for example.

    I hope this works.

  • Alice Hale

    Some students are just not developmentally ready for algebra in 8th grade. Let’s see the evidence that pushing all kids into algebra in 8th grade results in better outcomes in later years. I am willing to bet it doesn’t. I think it just drives those children who struggle further and further from math and, in turn, science, cementing in their minds that they “just can’t handle” math.

    And to the Oakland alum who thinks we baby students — some children just do not learn math using the conventional methods used in most classrooms. Yes, if you just keep going over the same curriculum without success, you will be teaching 2+2 for 8 years. It is only when curriculums are suited to learning styles that we will have success for more students. Look at what the math department at Montera middle school does with its math class for kinesthetic learners. It doesn’t baby them, but it does use different methods and techniques to pull the kids up to grade level.

    Of course, once you get beyond the classroom you are talking about all kinds of issues, influences, etc. that can negatively impact a child’s ability to learn. I don’t want to hear another comparison to Japan, France or Austria unless you factor in the national health care systems, availability of high quality child-care or the homogenous nature of the society in those countries.

  • Cheryl

    I cannot believe that you are all teachers! No wonder our education system sucks!! You should all be pushing the students to their limits!! I have been teaching Algebra at the University level for 5 years now, and it disturbs me to see incoming freshman that can’t add 1/2 and 1/3. I keep asking myself “How did they graduate High School?” But all of your comments shed light on my question. You let them slide by. You are too easy on them. As educators, are we to throw our hands in the air and quit trying to expect them to learn because math is a difficult subject for most students? Or should we keep trying and push them to do their best. Having students take an algebra test in 8th grade is an attainable and realistic goal. If teachers put the time into planning, working together, and motivate the students, IT CAN BE DONE!!!! It sounds like the problem lies with teachers and parents that want their kids to remain dumb for the rest of their lives because no one wants to make the students work or tp protect them from failure. It is our jobs as educators to educate. Not to say “It is ok that you don’t understand. We will pass you anyways because you tried hard” What we should be saying is “It is ok that you don’t understand. Just keep trying hard and work at it until you do understand. I will be here to help you.”

    When I am retired, I want the people that are going to be running the country to have some problem solving skills. Not only should we be teaching them academics, but we should be leading by example. What is the next generation of people going to be like, if we don’t teach them to work hard and be proud of what they learned? Are we trying to protect the students from failure? Failure is an everyday occurrence. It is how we handle the failure that will determine how bright we are. Should we shelter our kids from failure or teach them how to handle it and learn from it?
    I can sum it up my frustration with a couple of sentences that I will quote from a commercial I heard on the radio. In the commercial there were two doctors getting ready to go into surgery. One doctor says to another “It’s ok if I don’t do well this time. I get one make-up surgery”. You all need to ask yourselves if this is how you want YOUR children to view education and LIFE!!!!!

  • Cheryl

    Another thought:
    If they are not ready to take algebra in 8th grade, we have to ask ourselves why. It is because the students are not being prepared well enough to take algebra in the 8th grade? One person made the comment above that they are not developmentally ready to take algebra. But how is it that children the same age in other countries are doing much more difficult mathematics at the same age? Is that because children’s brains develop differently in other countries or is it because they are being pushed to learn and think through problems? I tend to think that no matter what the race, children have similar brain development which would cause me to also believe that it is the differences in the education systems.

  • Nextset

    Cheryl, why would you think that no matter what the race, children have the same brain development? Where on earth is that documented?

  • aly

    of course our kids are developmentally capable to learn algebra in the 8th grade; it is an insult to imply otherwise. the problem is that many of them lack the skills required to complete even a pre-algebra class, in oakland and throughout the state.

    what i hate about things like 8th grade algebra and CAHSEE emphasis is that they leave the burden on a small set of educators instead of the entire system. if an 8th grade math teacher gets a kid who was screwed out of a quality math education for the 7 years prior to landing in his/her classroom, how can they make up for all of that in one year??? if you come the first day and don’t know times-tables or can’t do basic division or fractions, there is only so much catch-up a teacher can do. that teacher is then looked down on because their kids couldn’t make the cut when there are so many other previous teachers who failed the student without consequence.

    same issue with cahsee; if i get kids in high school who don’t know the difference between a verb and a noun or what “plural” means, i’ll do my darndest, but there is sometimes just too much ground to make up in the one year i get those students! i can’t take you from 2nd grade to 9th grade in 8 months.

    teachers in 8th grade and high school now identify fully with cheryl- we scratch our heads and wonder who in the world passed this kid on instead of making them actually learn something! cheryl, you’ll love the OUSD policy of automatic 8th grade promotion regardless of whether or not a student passed a single class their 8th grade year. sheer brilliance.

    what i wish was that when legislators created these programs, they thought about all of the steps that have to be taken in order to get kids to perform at the set standards. smaller classes, more teachers, higher wages to attract better teachers, and annual benchmarks that ensure all students are progressing at an appropriate rate to meet the targets. elementary teachers need to feel the pressure, too, since they are the ones that set the kids up!

    teri, i’m disturbed that you think learning to read in kindergarten is somehow a bad thing. i attribute my success in school to my parents surrounding me with books that lead to my reading 4th grade material in kindergarten, despite being dyslexic. starting young is great. it builds self-worth and confidence in a kid when they can navigate the world and understand their surroundings more thoroughly. reading and math are critical for that understanding, and it is never too early!