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This Week's COWAbunga Award!

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This week's COWAbunga award, i.e. comment of the week award, goes to Rachel, who has been commenting here since the very beginning. It turns out that she and I share a ed policy pet peeve:
While we're on the subject of "causal connection" I'll bring up one of my pet peeves in the correlation-does-not-imply-causality department that I worry is becoming almost endemic in ed-policy discussions.

Even if SAT scores are a good predictor of graduation rate, focused efforts to raise SAT scores (like sending all high school students to test prep classes) will not necessarily improve overall graduation rates. That example may seem obviously silly, but in CA the logic that pushes for all 8th graders to take Algebra goes something like this: students who take Algebra II in high school tend to do well in college. Therefore students should take Algebra I in 8th grade to increase the chances that they take Algebra II in the two years of high school math that are required for graduation, to help ensure their success in college. The logic tends to leave math teachers banging their heads against walls.
12 Comments

Halleluia!

I share similar sentiments. Check out this site- you might find it humorous if you agree with this post.

http://vintage.failed-dam.org/tomato.htm

EW: I agree with your selection for this week's award. Rachel's comment hit the nail on the head regarding causal connections in the ed policy world. When will people realize that correlation may or may not indicate a causation?

Here's a causation, not a correlation.

Taking advanced math (like Algebra 2 and higher) in high school sharpens a student's analytical reasoning and problem solving skills....which, in turn, will benefit the student when he/she takes on college level work in any subject.

I agree with CodyPT. Analytical skills not entirely hereditary, they can be acquired. The modern world is organized in a way that there is a high payoff for obtaining these skills. So there is a strong argument for encouraging students to enroll in Algebra courses which train students to think analytically, especially at a younger age.

The if-it's-8th grade-it must be Algebra groupies are nuts. My child did not understand 7th grade math well and wasn't prepared for Algebra. But the school was pushing it. Nope, I said, let's not overwhelm her with coursework for which she's not prepared. Instead, let's tailor math to HER needs. Accomplishment -- now she's doing well in "regular" math. The 9th grade IB coordinator said she could take Algebra over summer if she wanted to pursue the IB program. Force 'em or support 'em? I go for support.

Thanks for the COWabunga!

And, just to clarify... I have nothing against Algebra II, and I actually think that a good math background can provide analytic skills that carry over into a wide variety of fields.

And there are subtler, and stronger, arguments for encouraging students to take Algebra II and going on to Calculus. Missing out on strong math background in high school closes quite a few doors in college.

But I've also seen people give presentations with graphs comparing the college graduation rates of students who did and did not take Algebra II, without any acknowledgment of the possibility the relationship could be predictive without being causal.

And very little thought seems to be given to the possibility that requiring Algebra I in 8th grade could lead not to more students succeeding in Algebra II, but to more students hopelessly confused about math.

I've met lots of "ed-policy" people who think 8th grade Algebra I is a good idea, but very few math teachers who agree.

When asking students to take higher level math, the instruction must be differentiated for the learning to have an impact. This is counterintuitive for most math teachers. My experience is most math teacher "drill and kill" their students. Students are not engaged and therefore lose any interest in math. I agree with the comment of math providing those skills needed not just for college but life. And while I do not agree every student should take advanced math, there is value in ensuring that all students do have an opportunity to do so in 8th grade. It also is too early to tell the long term effect of advance math. At least another five years to provide a large sample, but the dabate must continue.

Two groups of people are talking past each other here. 8th grade algebra is a good thing if and only if the student is ready (i.e. has mastered the skills that are necessary for algebra). And, at that point another factor enters in as well: is the student one of the ones who is OK with high-intensity, fast-paced math, or not? if so, go ahead with the Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Senior Algebra/Trig, Calculus path. If not, create a math progression that continues to build on the student's developing skills, ending up with (as noted elsewhere) 4 years of math but not necessarily ending up with AP Calculus. By making math a contest and a weeding-out machine, we pretty much guarantee that only the very talented get to succeed until the very end.

The question seems to be the developmental stage of the brain with regard to addressing abstract concepts. Is eighth grade the right age for this developmentally? It isn't about what administrators and policy makers wish, it is about what is really the case developmentally. I've been told that this is a bit young for many students. Of course if the idea is to start math frustration early, this is the way to do it. Analytical thinking can be addressed in ways other than math. Ask any parent who has tried to spin a child. They can be quite analytical with just one word. "Why?"

Couple of errors in the original post. The sequence of events:

1. Calif. State tests were Alg. 1 for about 1/2 the 8th graders and pre-algebra for the other half.
2. State is sued and Cal. Supreme Court rules it is discriminatory to test different students differently.
3. State says - 'Ok - we'll test everyone equally with an advanced pre-algebra.'
4. Industrial leaders yell loud and clear that they want a larger pool of math-smart kids to draw from.
5. Cal. State Univ. system (which is required to accept top 1/3 of HS graduates) says they already have to put almost 40% of incoming freshmen through remedial math and a lot of them don't make it so they want more math earlier too.
5. Gov. reverses and says test every 8th grader at Alg. 1 level.

My experience as a math teacher in Cal. is that in the average school - not the bad ones in poor areas, just the average ones - 50% fail Alg. 1 the first year. I couldn't believe it was so high but every math teacher I talked to said the same thing at all the different high schools in the area. Part of that is because the alg. 1 kids can't add and they can barely read.

Something is getting lost in the elementary grades and the can is kicked down the road to HS when it is really too late to fix.

The alg 1 kids in HS also have no idea how to behave or how to study. No one wants to teach them so the new teachers get stuck with them which contributes to high teacher attrition in the math area. How do you teach algebra to 14 year olds who have to add on their fingers?

The educational system is pushing students to take Algebra I in eight grade so that they can take Algebra II in high school. The reason for this is a study indicated that those who take Algebra II are more prone to go to college. The educational system also thinks that sending all high school students to prep SAT will improve the graduation rated as well. What they are failing to consider is the students who are not on the level and have difficulty in problem solving. These students are not ready for the advanced math and in pushing them into it their situation is made worse for it can cause the student to become disinterested or devastated, which may result in them dropping out.
Many students who have problems in math continue to do so throughout their academic career. High school graduates are still unable to pass the math college entrance exam. Usually, they have to attend remedial or workshops when a high school diploma suggests that they have sufficient knowledge in the subject. People in college have just as much trouble in math as high school students. They often have to go to tutoring in order to pass the class. This example shows that those who pass math in high school are not guaranteed to move on or do well in college. Adolescents are not grasping the material but instead are learning to spit out the answer. It is only good to take advanced math if one has developed mastery and can demonstrate their understanding of concepts.
SATs should not be used, as a standard to measure success in college for it is just another standardized test. Let’s not give the educational system another excuse to rob our children of learning by gearing the curriculum towards SAT preparation like it has been done with the regents. How many times have we witnessed students daydreaming, zoning out, or taking up space in the classroom while we hope that they are absorbing one piece of information? One important thing that all seem to forget is that students have to want to learn and by pushing them ahead when they are not ready that desire is being taken away.

The educational system is pushing students to take Algebra I in eight grade so that they can take Algebra II in high school. The reason for this is a study indicated that those who take Algebra II are more prone to go to college. The educational system also thinks that sending all high school students to prep SAT will improve the graduation rated as well. What they are failing to consider is the students who are not on the level and have difficulty in problem solving. These students are not ready for the advanced math and in pushing them into it their situation is made worse for it can cause the student to become disinterested or devastated, which may result in them dropping out.
Many students who have problems in math continue to do so throughout their academic career. High school graduates are still unable to pass the math college entrance exam. Usually, they have to attend remedial or workshops when a high school diploma suggests that they have sufficient knowledge in the subject. People in college have just as much trouble in math as high school students. They often have to go to tutoring in order to pass the class. This example shows that those who pass math in high school are not guaranteed to move on or do well in college. Adolescents are not grasping the material but instead are learning to spit out the answer. It is only good to take advanced math if one has developed mastery and can demonstrate their understanding of concepts.
SATs should not be used, as a standard to measure success in college for it is just another standardized test. Let’s not give the educational system another excuse to rob our children of learning by gearing the curriculum towards SAT preparation like it has been done with the regents. How many times have we witnessed students daydreaming, zoning out, or taking up space in the classroom while we hope that they are absorbing one piece of information? One important thing that all seem to forget is that students have to want to learn and by pushing them ahead when they are not ready that desire is being taken away.

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