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New Research Reveals Downsides of Taking Algebra Earlier

Although mastering algebra is widely seen as a gateway to higher mathematics, and as a stepping stone to being prepared for college, new studies suggest that taking the subject in middle school may not be such a great idea for low-performing students, my colleague Sarah D. Sparks reports.

Separate studies in California and North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district find that placing struggling urban middle schoolers into algebra not only fails to improve their achievement on state math tests, but also reduces the likelihood that they will take and pass higher-level math courses in high school.

California's state board in 2008 enacted a policy that includes algebra as part of the state's 8th grade end-of-year math test (though it has not been fully implemented because of a legal challenge), Sarah notes in her article. Charlotte-Mecklenburg in 2002 launched a policy to shift Algebra I from a high school to an 8th grade course. However, the drop in scores and coursetaking for low-achieving students was so dramatic, the EdWeek story explains, that the North Carolina district changed its policy two years later. The district now allows—but does not require—students to take accelerated algebra.

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