Are Unprepared Black Students Being Rushed Into Algebra?

In an effort to improve mathematics scores of students to meet goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts across the country are assigning more and more students to algebra classes in eighth and in some cases seventh grade. Students who take algebra in eighth grade are placed on a track leading to calculus in their senior year of high school.

But a study by the Brookings Institution finds that one third of all eighth-grade students are now taking algebra. However, the study found that many students are not prepared to take algebra in eighth grade and, as a result, mathematics scores on standardized tests have declined for students in these advanced classes.

The study, entitled The Misplaced Math Student: Lost in Eighth-Grade Algebra, finds that a large number of the low-achieving eighth-grade algebra students are either black or Hispanic. Critics of the report say that denying black students access to algebra in eighth grade will perpetuate racial inequality on the SAT and ACT college entrance examinations. But the authors of the study contend that placing unprepared students in courses where they are bound to fail is counterproductive. They believe that minority students who fail in early algebra will become discouraged and will lose their desire to learn.