## NCLB Outrages

Study: Many 8th-graders can't handle algebra

**Ohanian Comment:** I

post this item in NCLB outrages because "behind

in Algebra" is so obvious a part of the whole

corporate-politico scam. I wonder how much

this study costs. They needed a study to tell

us that "Many 8th graders can't handle algebra?

" They could have asked a few 8th grade

teachers who would have told them that for

free.

That said, I wonder just what skills *On par
*

with a typical second-grader's means. The

skills listed in that paragraph are certainly

not in the realm of second grade.

That said, I'll never forget reading *Anno's
*

Mysterious Multiplying Jar to 3rd graders

of "low" ability. The topic is factorials. You

know, factorial: * in mathematics, the
*

factorial of a non-negative integer n, denoted

by n!, is the product of all positive integers

less than or equal to n. Honest, I kid you

not: *that* was the plot of the book. I

guess you had to be there to witness how these

children "got it," and were transformed and

exhilarated by their own grasp of this concept.

I'll just say when I got to the last page, they

cheered and clapped. It truly was a

transforming moment, one of those very

satisfying moments as a teacher when you know

there's no place you'd rather be.

I had another transforming moment with

sophisticated math when I taught Neighborhood

Youth Corps kids to pass the GED. The fact that

I could whip them through exam prep in six

weeks made the New Jersey State Education

Department so nervous that they changed the

rules. It was easy to prep kids who could read

at least on the 10th grade level for the

Algebra part, which was trivial, but my star

student wasn't satisfied with my dismissive

test prep. He went to the library and looked up

"algebra" in the encyclopedia and taught

himself the basic concepts at a much more

substantive level. He made me realize that

*algebra* is a magic word for ghetto kids

routinely shut out.

I'm as nervous and outraged by talking about

something called "typical second grade skills"

as I am about insisting every eighth grader

should take algebra--*and* excluding 8th

grade teachers from the conversation. When will

the Standardistos accept the fact that kids are

different and need different things?

My goodness, doesn't that sound cornball?

**By Greg Toppo**

Peering beneath the hood of a national push to

have all students take algebra by eighth grade,

a new study out today finds that many of the

nation's lowest-performing middle-schoolers are

in way over their heads. They take algebra and

other advanced math courses before they've

mastered basic skills such as multiplication,

division and problem-solving with fractions.

For more than a decade, "algebra for everyone"

has been a high-minded mantra for the idea that

virtually all students should take algebra by

eighth grade. Since the mid-1990s, schools

nationwide have pushed more and more students

into challenging middle-school math courses.

Last year, 38% of eighth-graders were enrolled

in advanced math (Algebra I, Algebra II or

Geometry).

But when Brookings Institution researcher Tom

Loveless looked at the skills of eighth-graders

taking advanced math, he found something

startling: Between 2000 and 2005, the

percentage of very low-performing students in

advanced math classes more than tripled.

Using data from the National Assessment of

Educational Progress, he found that among the

lowest-scoring 10% of kids, nearly 29% were

taking advanced math, despite having very low

skills.

How low? On par with a typical second-grader's,

Loveless says. They lack a solid foundation in

multiplication, division, fractions, decimals,

rounding or place value. Yet they were tackling

fairly sophisticated math.

"It's hard to teach a real algebra class if you

have kids who don't know arithmetic," he says.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Adam

Gamoran, who has advocated pushing more low-

achieving high schoolers into algebra classes,

says these students get more from algebra

classes than from general math classes. "In

their zeal to extend this reform ever more

broadly, some mistakes have been made," he

says, but he hopes the findings don't cause a

backlash against challenging low achievers to

do harder math.

Loveless, who directs Brookings' Brown Center

on Education Policy, estimates about 120,000

kids are inappropriately enrolled in classes

that are supposed to level the playing field

and too often don't. "It's really counterfeit

equity," he says, noting that the mismatch

inordinately affects black, Hispanic and poor

kids in urban schools.

Gamoran says algebra concepts "should be

introduced earlier in students' mathematical

studies ΓΆ€” it's not like there should be no

algebra and then, in eighth grade, all

algebra."

Loveless agrees. But he says for kids who don't

have adequate skills in eighth grade, schools

should hold off on placing them in algebra

until high school.

Don't you wonder how many

members of Congress or how many members of the

White House team could answer this question?

Hey, how many Presidential and Vice-

Presidential candidates know the answer?

**10% OF 90 IS ... UNKNOWN TO MANY**

Sample problem on the NAEP test and percentage

of students who answered correctly. ("Misplaced

10th" refers to lowest-scoring 10% taking

advanced math.)

Question: There were 90 employees in a company

last year. This year the number of employees

increased by 10%. How many employees are in the

company this year?

Answer: 99

Percent answering correctly:

Overall: 36.5%

Advanced classes: 48.7%

Misplaced 10th: 9.8%

— Greg Toppo

*USA Today*

2008-09-22

INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES