Given the importance of middle school Algebra 1 for giving students access to bachelor-level STEM careers, it’s worth asking these questions: Is your school district giving the Algebra 1 opportunity to every middle school student who could benefit from it? Is it coaxing middle schoolers into the course when they are not ready? Is it keeping middle school kids out of Algebra 1 unnecessarily?
These are tough questions to answer. When my kids were in middle school (now plenty of years ago), the school’s middle school teachers made decisions about which students to place into Algebra 1 through testing and other more subjective criteria. It is certainly true that there are students – probably in every middle school – who could benefit from Algebra 1. It is probably just as true that there are students in every middle school for whom an Algebra 1 experience would be destructive – maybe souring a student on math forever.
But the range of percentages of middle school students taking Algebra 1 in different districts certainly raises the question of whether every district is including every student who should be included – or whether too many students are being included. Certainly Seminole County, where more than half of the students finishing 8th grade have taken Algebra 1, is an unusual place. But a district in which only a quarter of the graduating 8th graders have taken Algebra 1 really should be asking itself these questions: Does Seminole County really have twice as many strong middle school math students as we do? Or are we holding kids back?
Or maybe you are wondering whether Seminole County includes too many middle school students in Algebra 1. I think probably not – I don’t think Seminole County puts too many middle school kids in Algebra 1. What is my evidence? My evidence is the district’s passing rates for 7th and 8th graders on Florida’s Algebra 1 end-of-course exam. Of the Seminole County middle school students taking the Algebra 1 EOC, 98% of the 7th graders and 87% of the 8th graders passed the EOC. That compares to statewide rates of 93% of 7th graders and 86% of 8th graders.
Can the EOC passing rates be used to identify districts that put too many middle schoolers into Algebra 1? Probably not, but certainly a district with a low passing rate needs to examine that possibility. Take Liberty County as an example. That district included 66 of its 100 8th graders in Algebra 1 this year (it did not offer the course to 7th graders), but only 27 (41%) passed the EOC. That passing rate is far below the statewide 8th grade passing rate of 86%. That doesn’t mean Liberty County did the wrong thing by including so many 8th graders in Algebra 1. Maybe the district did exactly the right thing. I don’t know. But I do think that the district’s teachers and leaders should give the issue some thought. I’m sure that they will.
Is your district getting it right? The Algebra 1 EOC passing rates for 7th and 8th graders in every district are shown below. Take a look and decide for yourself.