Inland Educators Mixed on State Requiring Algebra I in Eighth Grade

By SHIRIN PARSAVAND | The Press-Enterprise |

State officials surprised educators last week by requiring all eighth-graders to take algebra. Reaction against the plan was strong, with some predicting widespread failure and frustration.

Schools will have a few years to implement the requirement, but some Inland school districts already require eighth-graders to take algebra.

In Corona-Norco Unified, almost all eighth-graders are enrolled in Algebra 1.

Moreno Valley Unified enrolls all of its eighth-graders in some type of algebra class, although some of the classes go at a slower pace. And at two of the district's six middle schools, all eighth-graders take the state's Algebra 1 exam instead of the state's alternative math test for eighth-graders.

State test results show that many eighth-graders have struggled with algebra.

In the Corona-Norco schools, only 21 percent scored at proficient or above on the state's Algebra 1 test last year.

But a district task force decided to keep eighth-graders in Algebra 1, while giving extra support to those having trouble. This school year, some students are enrolled in an algebra readiness class along with their regular algebra class.

Corona-Norco officials said they wanted to stick with the state's math standards.

Greg Plutko, the district's deputy superintendent for education services, said the task force's work should help the district as the state requirement goes into place.

"It really gives us an opportunity for our teachers and our kids to be successful," he said.

A decade ago, the state made it a goal for all students to take algebra by eighth grade, and about half of them do. The rest wait until high school to take the course, which since 2004 has been a graduation requirement in California.

Algebra serves as the basis to higher-level math classes students must take to get into most colleges.

Old Test Not Valid

The State Board of Education had been discussing what to do about the state's eighth-grade math test for months.

Federal officials said the state could no longer use the general math test given to eighth-graders not enrolled in Algebra 1 because it tested sixth- and seventh-grade material.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell wanted the state to develop a new eighth-grade test that included some but not all Algebra 1 material.

But the day before the board's vote, Gov. Schwarzenegger urged the state board instead to make the state's Algebra 1 test the standard eighth-grade math test. He asked the board not to perpetuate a two-track system.

Some business groups, higher education leaders and groups that advocate for students joined the call for mandatory eighth-grade algebra.

But many district administrators and teachers sided with O'Connell, who said schools need more time and resources before putting all eighth-graders in algebra classes.

Need More Time, Resources

Many schools lack qualified math teachers, and the shortage is more acute in middle schools than high schools, said Michael Lutz, a board member of the California Math Council and associate professor of mathematics at Cal State Bakersfield.

Lutz noted that the state just last year approved a new algebra readiness curriculum to introduce some algebra concepts to students not ready for the full course. Many school districts ordered textbooks and plan to teach that course to eighth-graders.

Riverside Unified still plans to offer the algebra readiness course this year for students who are not ready for Algebra 1, said Anne Marie Montgomery, the district's instructional services specialist for secondary mathematics.

Paul Shirk, assistant superintendent for research and systems analysis for the San Bernardino City Unified School District, said he is concerned about the requirement coming at a time of possible state funding cuts for schools.

"It's great to set the bar high and I think we can get there, but it's going to take resources and staff development to get teachers ready and students ready," Shirk said.

Some educators said that even with the right preparation in the lower grades, algebra requires abstract thought that some eighth-graders aren't mature enough to handle.

Kip Meyer, assistant superintendent for personnel services in the Lake Elsinore Unified School District and a former middle school math teacher, cited brain research in his opposition to mandatory algebra for eighth-graders.

"Right now it's our goal," he said. "But what do we do for the kids who aren't successful?"

Reach Shirin Parsavand at 951-368-9645 or

Put to the test

About half of the state's eighth-graders are enrolled in Algebra 1, but how many are enrolled and how well they perform depends on the district. Algebra 1 results for 2007 show:


Eighth-graders tested: 49 percent

Advanced: 9 percent

Proficient: 29 percent

Corona-Norco Unified:

Eighth-graders tested: 91 percent

Advanced: 3 percent

Proficient: 18 percent

Lake Elsinore Unified

Eighth-graders tested: 21 percent

Advanced: 18 percent

Proficient: 57 percent

Moreno Valley Unified

Eighth-graders tested: 44 percent

Advanced: 4 percent

Proficient: 17 percent

Riverside Unified

Eighth-graders tested: 63 percent

Advanced: 3 percent

Proficient: 28 percent

San Bernardino City Unified

Eighth-graders tested: 60 percent

Advanced: 3 percent

Proficient: 17 percent


Source: California Department of Education


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