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Algebra rule baffles many

July 14, 2008|By Angela Hokanson

GLENDALE — Some local and state educators are dismayed over the state board of education’s recent decision that, three years from now, will effectively require California students to take Algebra I in eighth grade.

The state board, which sets policy for kindergarten through 12th-grade education in areas such as standards and assessment, approved the change with an 8-1 vote during its meeting on Wednesday.

The move was supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who endorsed the change the day before the meeting.

“We must prepare our children for a knowledge-based economy in which algebra is the cornerstone,” Schwarzenegger wrote in a letter to state board of education President Theodore Mitchell.

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But the change went against the recommendations of the California Department of Education staff.

“To me, we’re setting students up for failure,” State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said.

Out of the 1,142 middle schools in California, only 15 have all of their eighth-grade students enrolled in algebra, O’Connell said.

Presently, eighth-graders are placed in math classes based on their achievement levels and must pass algebra in order to get a high school diploma, according to the state education department.

The state board of education began looking at eighth-grade math requirements several months ago, when the U.S. Department of Education informed the state that the General Mathematics Test taken by many eighth-graders was not properly aligned with the math standards for those students.

The state education department suggested that the board of education approve a revision of that test as a fix. Instead, the board opted to have all eighth-graders take the state’s Algebra I test.

Several local educators and education policy makers said they regarded the decision as ill-founded.

Bonnie Gould, a math curriculum teacher specialist with the Glendale Unified School District, said the policy change wasn’t good for children.

Students who take algebra before they’re ready, struggle with it, and then have to repeat the class, which can develop a distaste for math that could have been avoided, Gould said.

“What we’ve been working on really hard is to make sure children are successful,” she said.

In 2007, about 49% of eighth-graders across the state took Algebra I, but only about 38% of those students passed the state’s Algebra I standards test, Gould said.

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