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Does 'Double-Dose' Algebra Work?

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Across the country, one of the strategies schools are trying to help struggling students in algebra is essentially doubling the amount of time spent on that course. It's a popular tactic in other areas of math, and in reading, too.

A new study, however, says that double-dose courses produced mixed results in Chicago schools. On the one hand, the 9th graders studied saw their test scores rise. But the policy did not appear to result in fewer students failing the course, as school officials had hoped, the authors report. The grades of some struggling students increased, after the double-dosing, though the weakest students did not see their grades rise.

Should advocates of double-dose math courses be pleased with these results? After all, one could argue that student learning—if test scores accurately reflect that—increased. Or should persistently high failure rates raise red flags?

Chicago is, of course, coping with many of the same challenges in algebra that other districts are. The new study follows another one, released last month, which found that Chicago's failure rates increased when the district mandated that students take algebra in 9th grade. Keep in mind that some states and schools have moved to require students to take introductory algebra in 8th grade.

Chicago school leaders have put forward a number of programs and initiatives, in teaching training and other areas, in an effort to help students in algebra. We hosted a webinar earlier this year, in which a Chicago math administrator, and a former algebra teacher, spoke about those efforts.

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sigh---and what exactly do grades tell us about student learning?

An unchanged failure rate could be an indication that grades are primarily measuring compliance issues (like turning in homework on time) rather than communicating how much a student knows or has learned.

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