Algebra I mandate stopped in court

Judge Shelleyanne Chang might have just dashed Gov. Schwarzenegger’s dreams of testing all kids in Algebra I by the eighth grade.

In July, the State Board of Education approved the governor’s 11th-hour algebra proposal over the strong objections of California’s top ranking education official, Jack O’Connell.

But today, the Sacramento County Superior Court judge stopped the implementation of this sweeping policy. You can read her 5-page ruling here.

Among other things, Chang said the State Board of Education didn’t give Joe Public much notice that this was all going down:

(The State Board of Education’s) contention that the public was “involved” and that SBE substantially complied with the Act, is unconvincing.

O’Connell sent out a news alert in which he urged Schwarzenegger to drop the case:

In light of this ruling, and the severity of the state’s budget crisis, I call upon the Governor to not spend one more cent of taxpayer money litigating this matter.

What do you think will happen next?

above image by .raindrops. at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Mary

    I’m not sure how this will play out, but I hope that the state reconsiders Jack O’Connell’s original plan to test eighth graders on SOME algebra standards, but not all. My 30 years in as a middle school math teacher have reinforced over and over again that not all 13-year-olds are developmentally ready for a true, complete algebra curriculum. Even with good basic computational skills and number sense, supportive parents, consistent work habits— some kids just don’t “get” it. Those who go to Kumon or similar programs often can learn the algorithms, but have no real idea of why they are doing the calculations, or how to apply the concepts.
    I really don’t understand the hurry to move kids through math courses. It seems that most universities prefer that students take THEIR calculus series, even if a student took calculus in high school. Since Algebra 2 is where most kids “hit the wall” in their math education, a solid foundation in Algebra 1 is critical. I would like to see it evolve into a two-year course, offered in eight AND ninth grades.

  • John

    It’s often been my experience that “education policy planners,” at all levels, do not sufficiently take into account the perspective of experienced teachers like Mary resulting in decisions that waste precious resources and inevitably do more harm than good.

    It seems the judge’s ruling in this case favors the better outcome.

    In rectifying the salutatory ‘violation’ of not allowing the state superintendent of instruction, Jack O’Connel, his authoritative role in establishing a NCLB compatible Algebra assessment tool, perhaps his “original plan” (as Mary observes) to “test students on SOME algebra standards and not all,” will have more clout?

    As argued by the plaintiffs and endorsed by the judge, establishing an Algebra test that shorts a full understanding of Algebra 1 content for eighth graders is not necessarily a violation of NCLB.

    The determination of sound educational policy requires determinative input from actual teachers like Mary, not “action heroes” like The Terminator.

  • Bigoak

    It should be obvious to all. Mr. O’Connell and his people are getting ready to run for the Governor’s office thus he must secretly improves student performance.

    This is a way for minority children to get kept in their lower standards “place” by the soft racist approachers, cause I guarantee you, that blacks and latinos will far more outnumber the whites and Asians in the lower math classes.

    Another liberal rule that will contiune he drudgery of minority students in California.

  • Sharon

    Does the CDE or OUSD have an office that feeds the latest research to its employees? Here’s one recent discovery that explains why some kids might have difficulty with Algebra, and a number of other things:

  • John

    Sharon: Thanks for posting the link for this study! However, such findings by scientists are almost always contradicted by the findings of political scientists, the ultimate authority in such matters.

  • Nancy

    Times have changed, since everyone I knew and including myself who passed a basic math skills test at the beginning of 7th grade ended up with almost 2 school years of Algebra by the end of 8th grade. Now, we should be funding parenting skills, job skill, and life/health skills given the percentage of students able to pass basic math by 6th grade.

  • Peter Van Tassel

    Times have indeed changed, but I’m not so sure math is being dumbed down. When I was in 8th grade in Oakland (1989), at montera there were 2 algebra classes for 8th graders (about 60 kids of close to 300 8th graders). Now at Westlake every 8th grader without an IEP (and most with IEPs) takes algebra… that is a change from roughly 20% to more than 95%. Additionally, at nearly all Oakland public middle schools 7th graders who do very well in 6th grade math get the opportunity to take algebra as 7th graders, and geometry in 8th. This is not to say that schools should be held accountable for the algebra test scores of 8th graders, or that 8th graders (or anyone else) is developmentally ready for algebra, but a reminder to those whose reaction is to see this as an attempt to lower educational standards or that school is not as rigorous as it was “back in the day.”
    As a side note, we should all try to recall and explain the quadratic formula and its genesis and uses while we weigh in on this debate… we ask a lot of the kids!

  • Sharon

    Algebra-for-All Policy Found to Raise Rates Of Failure in Chicago/Education Week:

    “The Chicago school district was at the forefront of that movement in 1997 when it instituted a mandate for 9th grade algebra as part of an overall effort to ensure that its high school students would be “college ready” upon graduation.

    The policy change may have yielded unintended effects, according to researchers from the Consortium on Chicago School Research, based at the University of Chicago. While algebra enrollment increased across the district, the percentages of students failing math in 9th grade also rose after the new policy took effect.

    By the same token, the researchers say, the change did not seem to lead to any significant test-score gains for students in math or in sizeable increases in the percentages of students who went on to take higher-level math courses later on in high school.”



  • Steven Weinberg

    More studies are documenting the failure of programs that place all students in Algebra I, without regard for their math skills and readiness. See this excerpt from Education Week:
    ‘Algebra-for-All’ Push Found to Yield Poor Results
    By Debra Viadero
    Spurred by a succession of reports pointing to the importance of algebra as a gateway to college, educators and policymakers embraced “algebra for all” policies in the 1990s and began working to ensure that students take the subject by 9th grade or earlier.

    A trickle of studies suggests that in practice, though, getting all students past the algebra hump has proved difficult and has failed, some of the time, to yield the kinds of payoffs educators seek.

    Among the newer findings:

    • An analysis using longitudinal statewide data on students in Arkansas and Texas found that, for the lowest-scoring 8th graders, even making it one course past Algebra 2 might not be enough to help them become “college and career ready” by the end of high school.

    • An evaluation of the Chicago public schools’ efforts to boost algebra coursetaking found that, although more students completed the course by 9th grade as a result of the policy, failure rates increased, grades dropped slightly, test scores did not improve, and students were no more likely to attend college when they left the system.

    • A 2008 paper by the Brookings Institution suggested that as many as 120,000 students nationwide were “misplaced” in algebra programs, meaning they had test scores on national exams that put them about seven grades below their peers in algebra classes. Further, it said, states with a high proportion of students taking algebra in 8th grade didn’t necessarily outperform other states on national math assessments.

  • Gordon Danning

    Those early reports of the role of algebra as a gateway to college always struck me as confusing correlation with causation, frankly. I might be wrong, of course.