Pushing Higher Math in Lower Grades: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Since the 1980’s math skills have been introduced earlier in the American education system. In 2013, 47% of eighth-grade students were reported to be studying algebra, a course often saved for grades 9-12, when students are considered to be better equipped to handle complex math comprehension. The true debate over higher math in lower grades started in 2008, when California lawmakers began a campaign to make algebra mandatory for eighth-graders in an effort to keep up with the fast progression of technology. But what does this mean for the students?

THE GOOD

  • Students are being exposed to high-level thought-process earlier in their learning careers

  • Students have more time before college to take courses at an AP level

  • Once algebra is achieved in eighth grade, students have the opportunity to fit even more challenging math courses into their schedules.

THE BAD

  • While strong math students have shown to benefit from advanced learning, weaker math students struggle significantly, and often fail, when introduced to these concepts too soon

  • The average math achievement level in the U.S. dropped when the number of students taking eighth-grade algebra classes increased

  • More often than not, algebra classes are watered-down to better teach the middle-level student

THE UGLY

  • The few years between elementary and high-school are proven to be years where the brain doesn’t absorb new information easily, thus introducing not only new, but highly challenging mathematics only sets students up to struggle later

  • To many in the education industry, the push to incorporate algebra early on is entirely a political agenda, and doesn’t take into consideration the students themselves

  • Research by the University of Chicago has shown that although most ninth grade students completed ninth grade with credits in algebra, failure rates increased, grades slightly declined, test scores did not improve, and students were no more likely to enter college


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