As schools open across the nation this fall, most ninth graders, as well as some eighth graders, will be taking Algebra I. But in this era, when the nationwide focus is on improving achievement in math and science, many are asking if even more eighth graders should enroll in Algebra I.
Pathways to Math Achievement is a new EDC study that will examine the impact on the mathematics achievement of students taking Algebra I in the eighth grade. The study will offer an Algebra I course in an online format to schools in Maine and Vermont. Researchers will track and measure students’ mathematics achievement through 10th grade. They will compare the achievement and course-taking patterns of the eighth graders who are offered the course with those who are not.
Knowing that students who do well in algebra in eighth grade often go on to do better in math and science courses in high school, some policymakers are recommending that more eighth graders take algebra. This study will be the first rigorous research study to examine the short- and long-term impact of taking Algebra I in eighth grade.
“On the one hand, you have a number of policymakers advocating that eighth graders take algebra,” says EDC’s Peggy Clements. “But at the same time, there are others who advocate that eighth graders should take a more integrated math course.”
Seventy schools have been recruited, and training is underway, with the first schools getting started this fall. In the study, half of the schools will receive the online course this year, and the other half will continue to offer their normal eighth-grade mathematics curriculum to all students. In year two of the study, the second half of the participating schools will also receive the online course.
Students identified as ready for algebra will take the online Algebra I course. Eighth graders who are not ready for algebra will continue to take the regular eighth-grade math class, during which, they will cover a broader range of topics, including probability, geometry, and number operations, as well as algebra.
The algebra course is led by an online teacher in a remote location and is taught asynchronously—teachers and students are not online at the same time. Schools will identify a proctor from the school, who will monitor the students during class time as they log on to read messages from the teacher, see demonstrations, answer questions, and work with interactive applications. Teachers will log on from remote locations to answer questions and write messages to their students. Each online teacher will be responsible for about 15 to 20 students.
Beyond the math advantage, participating in the Pathways to Math Achievement study will enable schools to explore the feasibility of online courses in general. According to Cheryl Rose, also of EDC, interest in such courses is growing nationwide. They enable schools that are hampered by tight budgets, understaffing, or small size to have access to expanded educational opportunities for their students.
“The schools that wanted to participate are extremely excited,” says Clements. “These kinds of courses may be a great resource for them to have in the future. It’s a great opportunity for them to see how these resources work.”
The Pathways to Math Achievement study is part of the federally funded Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands, which is housed at EDC.
Originally published on October 24, 2008