For more than a decade, “algebra for everyone” has been a high-minded mantra for the idea that virtually all students should take algebra by eighth grade. Since the mid-1990s, schools nationwide have pushed more and more students into challenging middle-school math courses. Last year, 38% of eighth-graders were enrolled in advanced math (Algebra I, Algebra II or Geometry).
But when Brookings Institution researcher Tom Loveless looked at the skills of eighth-graders taking advanced math, he found something startling: Between 2000 and 2005, the percentage of very low-performing students in advanced math classes more than tripled.
Using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, he found that among the lowest-scoring 10% of kids, nearly 29% were taking advanced math, despite having very low skills.
How low? On par with a typical second-grader’s, Loveless says. They lack a solid foundation in multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, rounding or place value. Yet they were tackling fairly sophisticated math.
“It’s hard to teach a real algebra class if you have kids who don’t know arithmetic,” he says.
The full report is due in December, but more information is available from the Brookings Institution Web site.