Many states are pushing students to take Algebra 1 in middle school to prepare them for advanced math in high school. A new analysis, however, suggests that increased enrollment hasn’t led to higher math performance for states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The study was released last week as part of the annual report on education by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, in Washington.
Brookings senior fellow Tom Loveless tracked the number of students taking the 8th grade NAEP between 1990 and 2011 who reported taking an advanced math class, which could mean Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, or an algebra course “stretched over two years.”
In 1990, only 16 percent of 8th graders enrolled in an algebra course, versus 81 percent in a more basic pre-algebra course. By 2011, fully 47 percent of 8th grade students reported taking Algebra 1 or higher math.
Between 2005 and 2011, 45 states boosted the number of 8th graders taking Algebra 1, with an average increase of 5.5 percent more of those students taking a math course at the level of Algebra 1 or higher.
Mr. Loveless found no connection, though, between increases in the number of 8th graders enrolled in Algebra 1 and states’ average NAEP math scores, even after controlling for changes in the states’ rates of children in poverty, English-language learners, and black and Hispanic students.
A recent analysis of high school coursework by the National Center for Education Statistics found that a majority of high school courses labeled Algebra 1 and Geometry cover a significant amount of more basic material.