Math alert! All eighth-graders to take algebra test

The California Board of Education just voted 8-1 to scrap the eighth-grade general math test altogether and require all students to take the Algebra I STAR exam — likely, within the next three years.

It appears the decision may have been influenced by a last-minute appeal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to do so.

Here’s the background: The eighth-grade general math test was deemed out of compliance by the feds, because it only tested sixth and seventh grade standards. In response, State Superintendent Jack O’Connell proposed creating a new general math exam for eighth-graders who take pre-algebra, one which would include some algebra concepts. The state board rejected that proposal.

A teacher’s perspective: I just talked with Juliana Jones, a former Montera Middle School algebra teacher (yes, after seven years in Oakland, she’s leaving for Berkeley Unified) and last year’s Alameda County Teacher of the Year. Jones said she understands the push to expose kids to algebra earlier, but that it’s not as simple as eliminating a test, or requiring schools to enroll all children in algebra by eighth grade.

Because algebra is considered by many to be the “gatekeeper” for academic success, Jones said, some policy-makers believe that students should simply take the course earlier. They figure that even if some students fail, they can take the course again as ninth-graders, she said.

But Jones said there are unintended consequences to repeating the same material, year after year.

“They take it in eighth grade, they take it in ninth grade, they take it in tenth grade — Algebra I, Algebra I, Algebra I,” Jones said. “By the time they’re in 10th grade, they’re like `Screw this! I hate math.’ I like the idea of access to Algebra I for all students, but without a coherent plan to meet all students’ needs, it might be destined for failure.”

A word from the state super: Minutes ago, Jack O’Connell sent out a long and strongly worded e-mail expressing his disappointment at the board’s decision:

“I’m very distressed and more than disappointed that the State Board of Education has voted to implement Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal regarding eighth grade algebra that would severely impact students and schools without any discussion beforehand with educators in the field and with completely inadequate public notice.

“The Governor announced his position and gave direction to the members of the State Board late last night – less than 24 hours before a publicly noticed State Board meeting. The Board has been publicly considering a solution for alignment of an eighth grade mathematics test for more than three months. During that time, the Governor had ample time to communicate an opinion that we would have been able to notice, consider, discuss, and debate in open forum. Instead, he chose to remain silent until the 11th hour.

“It is quite distressing that the Governor would forward a proposal that would have significant impact on thousands and thousands of children with literally less than 24 hours notice so as to guarantee those affected most – teachers, students, and parents – would have virtually no opportunity to engage in the discussion.

“In addition, I have serious concerns with this proposal on its merits. I strongly disagree with the Governor’s proposal to require all eighth graders to take algebra within three years without also offering any of the support for our school districts and schools to successfully make this major change.

“I agree with the Governor in that we can be proud that our accountability model and algebra graduation requirement have pushed for more rigor in our system, and have indeed led to significantly greater numbers of students taking algebra.

I truly believe that with enough support, all students can succeed in algebra in the eighth grade.

“If the Governor had consulted an eighth grade teacher, principal, or district superintendent or reviewed data about eighth grade achievement in math, what he would have heard and seen is that while the number of students taking algebra has greatly increased, proficiency has not. Our system simply has more work to do to put in place the necessary tools to ensure every child is ready to participate and succeed in algebra.

“What I found interesting is what the Governor hasn’t said. He has offered no specifics about additional support or resources to our public school system to prepare all eighth grade students to succeed in algebra. Let’s not forget, while the State Board met today, local school boards across the state are cutting programs because of our state budget crisis.

“Today, educators throughout the state have placed almost half of our eighth grade students in General Mathematics despite the fact that doing so has negative implications for their schools in our accountability system. But, they do it because it is a more educationally appropriate choice for certain students. And for that roughly half of the eighth grade population deemed by teachers, principals and parents not to be ready for algebra, a disturbingly low 23 percent are proficient or advanced on what amounts to seventh grade standards.

“When we disaggregate this data, we also find disturbing achievement gaps with African Americans at 13 percent proficiency and Hispanics at 16 percent.

In fact, if you look at all eighth grade students taking both Algebra 1 and General Mathematics, less than 12 percent of California’s Hispanic students in the eighth grade are proficient and less than 10 percent of African Americans are proficient.

“These numbers tell us that quality instruction, resources, and time matters greatly in preparing students to succeed. Just putting all students in algebra, regardless what the data tell us, is not a responsible course of action. Clearly, different strategies need to be put in place if we expect all students to succeed in eighth grade algebra. I am very disappointed that the Governor is advocating a proposal that does not address those issues or offer any additional assistance.

“One leading urban superintendent I respect, for example, told me he thought he could come close to meeting the expectation to prepare all eighth grade students to take Algebra 1, but only if he were allowed to waive history or science in the lower grades so as to give him more time to teach math. Are we willing to offer that flexibility? Is that a good idea? Should we discuss it? These are the kinds of tough choices our districts would have to make if we impose this requirement with as little thought or discussion as is proposed today.

“If we are going to put this new expectation on our schools, we need to put appropriate resources into place. Otherwise, let’s be honest: we’re just setting our schools up for failure. We need to ensure subject matter expertise at every grade level. We need consistent, high-quality standards-aligned professional development, and our schools need a minimum available amount of instructional minutes for mathematics. We cannot expect our students to succeed when we adults have not done our part.

“I understand that some are suggesting we don’t need to worry about these consequences – that the likelihood is we’ll have a new administration in Washington before any of them come to pass. But that is a cynical and insincere way of making public policy, and is tremendously risky for our students and schools.

“In pushing for this major change in education policy, the Governor has committed to provide additional resources to schools. He has made such commitments to our schools before and then in response to state budget crisis, he broke his word. By forcing this mandate on schools without first guaranteeing resources or a plan for implementation, the Governor has gambled the education of thousands of school children; I pray the kids win.”

If you’ve gotten this far, what’s your assessment of the board’s decision?

image from .raindrops.’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Oakland Student Alumni

    this is just a copy and paste of my comment on the previous article

    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.


    Algebra should be taught earlier. If little kids can learn complex languages at an early age, why not algebra?

  • pechkin

    defnitely, spend more time on math, teach Algebra in 8th grade! but it won’t work in public schools, because they are unwilling to change the status quo and demand more from the students and staff.
    the public school system , just like healthcare doesn’t work right now, so it’s expected it would be resistant to any change.
    math periods need to be longer starting with the 6th grade. 45 minutes is not enough to teach a concept.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Over the last ten years Oakland middle schools have tried several different approaches to improving math skills of students who are far behind in math. We have tried longer instructional periods and double periods of math. More time works well for students who are good at math. They can focus for the longer periods and learn more, but the students who find math difficult don’t seem to improve much. They reach their frustration points much sooner, and most of the extra time is wasted.
    At Frick we have been more successful when we reduced the class sizes for the students having difficutly to 15 students. With fewer students in a class the teacher can give the students the individual help they need more quickly, and the frustration does not set in. Unfortunately, reducing class sizes is very expensive, and we have not been able to afford to cut the class sizes for all who need it.

  • hills parent

    Perkins: Please do not lump all school districts with OUSD. There are school districts out there that do demand more from staff and students.

  • Debora

    This was a topic recently with our NEXO. My second grade daughter was working on addition and subtraction of 3 digit numbers and basic multiplication 2X4 at the end of the school year.

    At home we were talking about squared numbers, square roots and the importance and significance of prime numbers.

    I have heard from our local middle school that almost no sixth graders are capable or ready to think in an abstract and algebraic way. I believe this is false. I know from my daughter and her friends that they routinely figure out problems using math and will be “taught” in a few years the concepts they are using today.

  • Nextset

    This puts the cat among the pigeons.

    Imposing state mandates such as this one runs the risk of lighting up “the gap” in Neon.

    Is it a bad thing to do? I’m not sure. Imposing such a requirement will identify those students who are able to handle abstract thinking – who have not been discovered and are not being discovered perhaps.

    We do run the risk of the our urban students fighting back and refusing to even try to perform for fear of acting you-know-what. It’s up to the schools to manage this and they need to go into the situation with their eyes open.

    Like that will ever happen.

    I can’t say if this is a mistake or not. I can say the authors of this policy don’t understand the ramifications of what they are doing. I do think we should try to get algebra across to everybody and whatever level they can absorb it.

  • MaryF

    As a middle school math teacher for thirty years, I was dismayed to learn about the governor’s last-minute push to require algebra testing for all eighth graders. Juliana Jones (who is a nationally board-certified educator) was right on with her commentary. Many eighth graders are simply not developmentally ready for algebra’s abstract thinking skills, and no amount of practice, instruction, money, or pressure will change that fact. Every year I have some students in Algebra 1 who know their number facts cold, do all of the homework, take advantage of available extra help, and have supportive parents, and they STILL struggle. How does Arnold think that Algebra 1 is appropriate for all eighth graders in California, when NO OTHER state in the U.S. has made it a requirement? Many students would benefit from breaking the algebra curriculum into a two-year course, letting them internalize the concepts and develop their critical thinking skills at a reasonable pace. Algebra is the foundation for further study of mathematics, and it is important that students become truly proficient, and not necessarioy by time they are 14 years old.

    The first year of STAR testing, we gave the Algebra 1 test to ALL students in eighth grade, regardless of which level math they were taking. It was absolutely ridiculous and heartbreaking. Many students gave up after just 5-10 minutes, as they were totally clueless. We were then allowed to give some students the “General Math” test, which seemed a bit too easy, and mostly based on 6th-7th grade standards. I was pleased with Jack O’Connell’s original idea to adjust the test next year to SOME algebraic standards, based on the “Algebra Readiness” curriculum that the state adopted last year. This seemed to be a very appropriate level for most of the students who are not quite ready for full-on Algebra 1.

    I would like to know what recourse, if any, there is for those of us who are “stuck” with this hasty decision. We are setting our students up for failure. I’m hoping for a full-scale rebellion, as those of us in the classrooms, both students and teachers, will bear the brunt of the fallout. We need to be moving toward the goal of greater accessibility to algebra, but one size does NOT fit all!

  • hills parent

    As a former middle school Principal I feel that this is a mistake. On the one hand it will force OUSD to recognize that there may well be a good number of students capable of taking Algebra and therefore prevent our schools from treating all of our children to the “cloned” curriculum. However, there will be large numbers of students who are not ready to take Algebra at the 8th grade. Providing them with pre-Algebra skills at the eighth grade, howevever, may very well assist them to be successful with Algebra in the ninth grade.

    On another note, how about asking Arnold to take the CAHSEE (high school exit exam). Then we may see a change in his attitude.

  • Nextset

    It’s interesting reading the Chicken Littles complaining that no one can handle this new standard. Boy are they in for it. You see, some students can handle algebra in 8th grade. Some students will never be able to manage algebra.

    By dumping this mandate on the schools the government has taken one more step to illuminate the differences between the students. And you think this is all an accident? People on the level of our Governor know exactly what the results of this move will be. Ditto the people behind NCLB and the data collection and publication scheme there.

    If the politically correct teachers and their allies haven’t read “The Bell Curve” maybe they should. Because somebody else has and they are using it to set policy.

    When the educrats whine that Algebra can’t be imposed on the 8th grade students because they can’t do it – they will be proven wrong – There will be a ton of 8th grade students who can, just like that joke of a state graduation test that bright 14 year olds can pass.

    Then where does this leave us? Is the government going to blame the upcoming failures on the teachers letting the failing students down – or will the failing students be blamed for letting the teachers down?

    And in the face of the new stats what will happen to the “all people are equal” nonsense that is Dogma to the Educrats?

    Does all this mean that we are headed for a school system for the brights and a different school system for the dulls? I hope so for everyone’s sake. If Arnold’s policies force out the dulls from the A level system obviously an alternative system will have to be created for them. A Track B and C.

    So I suspect that there will be more ramping up of the school requirements. I doubt a move like this will occur by itself. Watch for an increase in the graduation test standards from the current 8th grade performance minimums. The powers that be already have the stats on what the flunk rate will go to if they raise that to 9th and 10th grade minimums. Are they ready to go there in this state?

    My bet is that Arnold and Co intend to get rid of teaching civil service protection or otherwise clean house on the public school teachers of CA. By creating false teaching failures they will have the excuse they need to fire the bulk of the existing unionized teachers. Increasing the standards in this way guarantees “teaching failures” – especially if the teachers and the unions allow themselves to be blamed for the predictable scores.

    I refer the readers to the Scott Phelps controversy in Pasadena Unified School District when Phelps wrote a memo warning the other teachers that administration was imposing a new pay scheme to take pay from the teachers whose students didn’t meet benchmarks at the same time the ethnic mix of the school was changing – which he warned was simply a pay cut under the guise of failing to make a quota (that was in fact an increased quota, a work speedup).

    I could be wrong – or this could be a money and power move on the teachers. And as far as the kids who get their noses rubbed in failure… Oh well.

    Brave New World.

  • Nextset

    My posts on 6 and 9 contradict on the point of whether the authors of the new policy know what they are doing. I’d have to conclude that they must know the likely statistical outcomes of what they are doing with the reset standards.

    See if they don’t do more of the same moves.

    I consider Jack O’Connell’s opposition illustrative. He generally stands for status quo in education and weakened standards for public schools, allowing the private schools to increase their monopoly of being the only real schools in the state. Arnold & Co appear to want to have more Public Ivys by comparison. Or maybe Arnold’s European perspective of having different tracks for brights and dulls is in play.

    Sorry for the wordiness here. Moves like this are really significant. Somebody is making a power play on the public secondary schools and it’s not O’Connell.

  • Sue

    “Does all this mean that we are headed for a school system for the brights and a different school system for the dulls? I hope so for everyone’s sake. If Arnold’s policies force out the dulls from the A level system obviously an alternative system will have to be created for them. A Track B and C.”

    I think you have some valid points, but I reached a different conclusion. I think it’s more obvious that alternatives won’t be created. Track B and C will never exist because they’ll be too expensive to create, and the kids that need them aren’t considered worth that investment.

    Seems to me the goal (at the national level, anyway) of NCLB was to eliminate public school altogether. Something along the lines of “reducing [publicly funded education] until it’s small enough to drown in the bathtub.” I’m not sure that’s the goal of the state, but I’m not sure that’s not their intention either.

    My children will be out of school by the time that goal is reached, if it’s reached at all. This is a step in that direction, though. We already have a serious shortage of qualified math teachers, and this is only going to drive more of them out – out of the state at least, and more likely, completely out of teaching.

    It’s frightening to think of the consequences of the end of public education.

    I was really looking forward to younger son getting to learn algebra with Ms. Jones at Montera, too. She was so wonderful with older son, and in spite of his autistic-concrete-thinking-processes, he was doing well in algebra in 8th grade, because of her efforts. Then he got less-stellar math teachers in high school, and he hasn’t done anywhere near as well. Berkeley’s gain, and our loss.

  • Nextset

    “In fact, if you look at all eighth grade students taking both Algebra 1 and General Mathematics, less than 12 percent of California’s Hispanic students in the eighth grade are proficient and less than 10 percent of African Americans are proficient.” Quote from O’Connell’s statement.

    I take it that the problem was with the General Math, not the Algebra. O’Connell doesn’t clearly say this. Maybe it’s too scary.

    So what does anyone think the public schools are going to have on their hands with this new policy in regards to the Black and Brown students? Those groups as groups are unable to master “general” math. The new Algebra requirement means that they will either walk out of the classrooms or trash the place in frustration.

    Or does the readership see any other reasonable outcome?

    I see that by imposing this the Governator and his friends will be pushing these groups into separate schools or separate programs. They are extremely unlikely to function with the new requirement and the schools will be punished under NCLB is they stay while failing – so I see a lot of expulsions and dropping out in the future for some people.

    Now we can take this conversation into WHY the black and brown groups can’t do the work – but some people don’t want to have that discussion in this forum. I suppose why is relevant to how this all ends. Can the problem be corrected or not, etc. Some other forum may have a discussion on the existance of “The Gap” (and what should be done about it). Not here.

    All I can say is that the teachers caught in the middle of this will have interesting school days. And I’m afraid the teachers will be blamed for the student’s failures not the students blamed for their own failure. Or should anybody be “blamed” for this?? The teachers are going to get hurt by this somehow.

  • Jake

    Mandating that all 8th graders take Algebra is, to my mind, a pretty solid example of allowing the good to become and obstacle of the great.

    Algebra is certainly a gatekeeper course. So why should every student in California be expected to pass through the gate at the same age? Some students who struggle with Math (and this includes plenty of “brights”) certainly do need an extra year of pre-algebra, general math, or even geometry, before tackling the particular abstract skills of Algebra.

    Certainly all students should have equitable access to such an important course. But it’s naive to assume that identical is the same thing as equitable.

    And, perhaps, the Governor has very good answers to all our questions. But we’re unlikely to hear them, due to his insulting manner of addressing the issue.

    And, perhaps, Nextset’s glee over a return to tracked school systems doesn’t arise from incipient racism. But we’re unlikely to know, since he (she?) hides behind snark, strawman fallacies, and smug dismissals, not to mention an alias.

  • Nextset

    Jake: Perhaps you would enlighten us with your appraisal of the current fix CA and Oakland public education is in and what you perscribe to improve things. I’ve already mentioned what a laugh the racism comments are from weak minded liberals – usually white to boot. You probably believe that racism is responsible for the current problems certain minorities have with crime and mortality issues. Or maybe you are black or brown yourself? I don’t know because you hide behind an alias…

    Understand this about me. I’ve lived long enough to remember when female headed households, incarceration and poverty were not the norm for California Blacks. These are the gifts of Johnson’s Great Society programs, the Divorce on Demand movement, and the educational policy that says everybody is the same and gets the same. So when I say the public schools have transformed into failure factories I can still remember when this was not true. Can You?

    You mistake my feelings about tracking and placement of students in programs where they can make an honest living according to their ability. The rest of the industrialized world has always done so. Both racially homogenous states as well as states with a large influx of foreigners such as the UK track students and teach them to their ability and interest. By refusing to do so we condemn the dulls to failure from childhood on and that is just what the great new idea about the Algebra will do in spades. So I take no pleasure in this. It will hasten the complete failure of the Public School as we know it which I suppose can be a good or bad thing depending on what is put up to replace it.

    So what do you think is happening?

  • Chauncey

    Its been a while since I’ve read and responded to any postings simply due to the redundancy of the bloggers and their hardline stances based on their ideals and not issues. I said never again yet here I go….

    Why is demanding Algebra I for ALL kids racist? The assumption that minorities cannot perform at this not so complicated course is a snapshot of the silent racist approach by American liberalism, which in this black mans mind, has done far more damage to minorities education in contemporary times than any redneck racist.

    The issue is not the students, its the approach by educators the American Public school school system. There are far too many issues to attack here, but lets start with parent involvement . A white middle class value that does not translate well in the ghetto. My son attended Think College Now, where the school caters to parents more than students.

    The principals respond to the whim of the parents no matter how terrible the parenting may be. I recall a parent, whose kid had missed 2 weeks of school for a vacation to Mexico, begin a signature drive to fire a principal because the issue was addressed to her son. How can we focus on high standards without some kinds of accountability at every level.
    As for tracking, if done right, you can isolate support systems such as effective, not the childcare tutoring seen at most schools.

    I am a big charter school supporter and sincerely hope that that more effective, not liberal minded charters, can open up in the inner cities.

    Most of folks dont make it to the blog scene, so I thought Id represent now and then.

  • Jake

    Chauncey, I think mandating that all students take Algebra by 8th grade is a lockstep, flawed approach to equity, but I don’t think it’s inherently racist.

    As I said, I think it turns the good into an obstacle of the great. We know that Algebra is a gate keeper course, and every student should take it between 7th and 10th grade… But there are many students who would benefit from taking it in High-school. And I can’t see the wisdom of rushing this decision without public discussion and input from teachers, principals, parents and students, not to mention former parents and students and everyone else in the state who is paying for public education in the first place.

    Nextset, I post under my real name, not an alias. I haven’t posted often here but each time I have, someone I knew recognized me. If you are interested in my race, politics, or anything else about my background, feel free to divulge your own, first, and then ask.

    As for what I “perscribe” (sic) for the public schools… That’s far outside my expertise, but I think we need more money over all, better designed accountability systems to be more effective and less burdensome, a state wide student database, a rollback of the NCLB unfunded mandates and highly game-able testing regimens, and then a roll-in of sensible, funded mandates to cover the same ground, and a testing regimen/school closure cycle that was based on real data from turn-around schools in cities all across the nation, rather than fake data from a phantom reform period in Houston.

    Now, if you want things that have actual political viability, how about retooling the broken SES after-school tutoring fund, and a $15,000 grant to every public school (including charters) that uses new online assessment tools (edusoft, edperformance, let’s go learn, etc.) to give teachers, tutors, and parents more ability to assess student’s strengths and weaknesses in real time and create appropriate individualized work.

    Finally, Nextset, your comment that made me wonder about your racism was where you described “black and brown students” as walking out or trashing the classroom when faced with Algebra they couldn’t handle. There are certainly knuckleheads in every school that have outbursts when they are frustrated. And according to discipline statistics, those students are disproportionately Black and Brown. But they are nowhere close to being the majority of the African American or Latino students… contrary to your gleeful imagery.

    If I’m reading something that’s not there, say so. But if you choose to go with an ad hominem dismissal, would you mind using my own words against me, instead of some other people in some other comments in some other thread, some other time?

  • Alice Hale

    “Algebra should be taught earlier. If little kids can learn complex languages at an early age, why not algebra?”

    You’re kidding, right? Doesn’t it occur to you that learning a language and learning algebra could be slightly different cognitive processes? Take a child development course and get some background.

    There are lots of kids in the OUSD who take algebra in 8th grade. There are even some who take it in 7th grade. No one is talking about holding back students who are ready for the subject.

    But many, many others are just not ready. Forcing them to take algebra in 8th grade (with no acknowledgement of differences in learning style, information processing, etc. ) is just setting them up for failure and to make them feel more and more inadequate about their ability to learn math.

    Not to mention there are many, many obstacles to school success for many students in California. Maybe every 8th grader in Austria can succeed in algebra — but how many of them lack health care, didn’t have high quality preschool, and speak another language at home? Education is not isolated from the rest of societies problems. Let’s quite pretending it is.

  • Katy Murphy

    I’ve heard a lot lately about exposing children to “algebraic thinking” as early as kindergarten, so that when they hit middle school or high school, they don’t have to make a giant leap from arithmetic to algebra. (Maybe that’s what the person Alice quoted was referring to.)

    To what extent is that being done in Oakland and elsewhere, and to what effect? Do you think it has the potential to better prepare kids for Algebra I?

  • Nextset

    If a student can’t handle algebra I in 8th grade will they be able to deal with it well in 11th grade?

    Under the current system, General Math is used for those who didn’t have aptitude for higher math. Most of these students would avoid higher math. In fact, significant groups of students couldn’t function well on General Math.

    So the new great idea is to force everyone into Algebra I at 8th grade and see what happens.

    We all know exactly what will happen, and who it will happen to (group averages anyway).

    So what are the politicians up to with this change? What is the rest of the plan here??

  • Steven Weinberg

    Many people seem to think that it is only African-Americans and Latinos or inner-city students who are not taking Algebra in the eighth grade. That is not correct. In Piedmont Middle School 36% of the students took the general math test in eighth grade. In Mt. Diablo it was 55%. In Orinda it was 35%. In Oakland it was 36%. Oakland actually had a higher proportion of eighth graders enrolled in Geometry than any of those districts, 5.8%.
    Statewide the percentages for racial groups are not very different, except for Asians. 52% of both African-American students and Latino students take General Math, 47% Algebra I, and 1% Geometry. 43% of white students take General Math, 53% Algebra I, and 4% Geometry. 25% of Asian students take General Math, 63% take Algebra I, and 13% Geometry. This would seem to indicate that there are some students who are not ready for Algebra I in every racial and economic group.

    Those opposed to the eighth grade Algebra I requirement emphasize that no other state in the country has such a requirement. Those who favor the requirement state that United States students do not perform as well as those from other countries. Does anyone know when Algebra I is taught in other countries, or does such a course even exist?

  • Nextset

    I believe it is useful and important to expose students to math and higher math early. Any student who shows ability should be placed/pushed into the higher math classes. No one is saying that there aren’t students of all races who are or can become adept at higher math. The percentages of each group remain to be seen.

    The good thing about this change is that those who do have a math ability can be spotted and brought forward – and they won’t be able to dodge algebra as easily as they may have before. In fact, if the position of the establishment is that everybody becomes proficient in Algebra I in 8th grade or you are labeled a failure – more kids might make the effort and succeed.

    Still the policy shift represents a work speedup for the students and the teachers. How will this affect schools such as OUSD?

    Is this a good thing or not? Arnold says yes and O’Connell says no. I already have no confidence in O’Connell because of his earlier public statements. Yet this measure makes me feel uneasy. It will be interesting to see what develops. And you can bet the stats will be collected and published – by race.

  • weis

    on the subject of minority students and Algebra: they can and they will if the school structure is fixed (and I know this post will be bludgeoned by disbelievers)
    look at the demographics (88% Latino 7% African American) and scores (81% proficient or advanced 2007) at Oakland Charter Academy where all 8th graders take the Algebra I STAR test, and the much discussed American indian Public Charter with the score of 94%.
    Of course these students had almost 3 years (since 6th) of staying with the hard-ass charter model, but it works.

  • John

    The OUSD should sponsor a ‘Pre-Algebra Special Olympics!’ It would require of course an Oakland venue large enough to accommodate it. Perhaps the Oakland Coliseum, after the Raiders move to safer quarters? A self concept is a terrible thing to not be positive about. It be too bad another testy state skunk be comin to another OUSD picnic! Pass the numerators, denominators and lemonade and don’t be spillin on them baggy pants.

  • jake

    Katy, the California math content standards include Algebra Concepts from kindergarten on up. You can see full break downs of the OUSD standards here:

    The primary algebra concept included is AF 1.1:
    “Identify, sort, and classify objects by attribute an identify objects that do not belong to a particular group (e.g., all these balls are green, those are red).”

    Algebra concepts are interlaced with regular arithmetic drills. When an elementary student is asked to fill in the blank for “5 + ___ = 10 “, that’s algebra!

    It’s a canard that Algebra won’t be taught unless it’s mandated for 8th grade. The proponents of this mandate have very little ground to stand on, in my opinion.

    And “John,” I’m not sure what you intend with your minstrel slang, but it’s not funny, and it’s not clever, and it reads as a snide racist remark. Did you mean it that way?

  • Dee

    What test will the 8th grade students take for the next three years? Will the ALgreba 1 test be revised?

  • Katy Murphy

    I don’t believe any major changes will be made to the Algebra I test, or to the general math test. The U.S. Department of Education — which found the general math test out of compliance — is giving California three years to make the switch.

    In the meantime, I suspect, fewer kids will take the general math test each year.

  • Dee

    I have the revised Mathematics Blueprint dated July 14 that shows the relationship between Algebra and Algebra readinesss. there are only 14 of the Algebra standards on this list. Does that mean there will be a new test that only tests these 14 standards?


    Look at item 10

    I am trying to understand? Thanks anyone who can help!

  • Katy Murphy

    Dee: As I understand it, the Mathematics Blueprint outlined proposed changes to the General Math exam, not to the Algebra I test.

    Because the eighth-grade General Math test was deemed out of compliance by the U.S. Department of Education, State Superintendent Jack O’Connell originally proposed revamping it to include some — but not all — Algebra I standards.

    The state board rejected that option, however, and decided to phase out the test entirely. So unless I’m mistaken, the blueprint is now irrelevant.

  • Dee

    Thank you for your reply. That is what I was afraid of.

  • Public School Survivor

    It is unreasonable to expect all students to take the same exam, when they are not all prepared for it. It would be nice if all eighth-graders were at the same level, but this is, sadly, not true. The general math students would just be wasting their time taking an algebra test, guessing on every question, and artificially lowering the math scores of the entire state. It would actually have a negative effect because students will become discouraged by the difficulty of the subject before they even start to learn it.
    On the other end of the spectrum, having one test for all the students in a grade is a waste of time for the advanced students as well. I took algebra in seventh grade and still had to take a general math test. In my high school honors program we took history classes a year earlier and switched the order of the science classes. Every year I had to take the wrong test, either on material I had not learned yet or on something I had learned the year before. Instead of trying to use one test for all students, the decision should be based on what the student is actually taking if lawmakers want an accurate report of how students are performing.

  • MaryF

    It is a shame that the CA School Board didn’t agree to the proposed changes to the General Math exam. With an “Algebra Readiness” course covering the introductory standards of Algebra 1 in eighth grade, most students have a good chance of being successful in Algebra 1 in the ninth grade. Publishers have even devised books for “Algebra Readiness” that are on the state-adopted list in anticipation of the revised general math course. For students who are not quite developmentally ready at 14, it was a logical step to give them another year to mature and solidify their skills. It is really frustrating when politicians get involved who have no idea what really happens in the classroom.

  • Nextset

    Here’s a pretty good article complaining about Arnold’s new state Algebra policy. Note the stats from LA Unified on Algebra…


    This covers my problem with what Arnold has done. My question now is why has the Governor done something that he knows won’t work? The only answer is that he actually intends the logical results of his actions – he knows the Algebra policy will radically speed up the pace of school drop outs – and that is his actual objective.

    And while I have taken the position that we should only have half of the high school students in academic high schools that we have – there’s something about how this will do it that bothers me. I think it that I don’t like creating failure by sending people into situations they have no reasonable expectation of succeeding in… That’s what bothers me. Algebra, like other academic study, should have prerequisites. We should not be enrolling people in programs they are extremely likely to fail in. It’s bad for them, wasteful for us, and just the wrong thing to do.

  • TyPR

    I don’t know what their plans are with this policy, but either way I think this proves how corrupted our government is.

    If their plan is really to help the students, then that simply proves how little most government officials really know about regular people. Being currently in school I should know. When I was in 8th grade, I took Algebra I. Personally I think I was ready for it in 7th (or MAYBE 6th). Sure, I did well, but I also know others in lower maths that wouldn’t have had any success at all. To me, most concepts of higher math are like this: you either get them, or you don’t. And if you’re not ready to learn something, it won’t help to try, because you just won’t get it.

    However, if they (the government) know that won’t work for students, but still have their own goals for it, then I just find it sad that government officials can do basically anything they want, even if it puts the majority of those effected at the bottom. And we call this a democracy.

  • phil bertoni

    Having all or most students take Algebra too early runs the “risk of categorizing math students too early”. Algebra, although very conceptual, is full of necessary basic skills, such as algebraic fractions and decimals involved with equation solving and problem solving. Most students need more time to develop their understanding of basic math skills applied to increasingly higher forms of problem solving without the additional distraction of learning complex algebraic concepts.
    —–Retired public school teacher – 38 years—–

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  • FL math teacher

    The difference between success and failure for most at-risk students is the teacher.

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