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Should students take algebra in 8th grade?
THURSDAY, MAY 14, 2015 17:07 PM

The question of whether students should be taking algebra in eighth grade has long been the subject of policy discussions in several states, most notably California. In fact, after years of trying to implement a policy that required students to take the high-level math class in middle school (it's historically been taught mostly in ninth grade), California's State Board of Education finally voted algebra out of its middle school math standards in 2013. But why do so many states want eighth graders to take algebra, and why are school systems fighting against it? 

What does the Common Core say?
The Common Core State Standards, which have now been adopted by 42 states, don't require students to take algebra in eighth grade. However, because some states require the subject to be taught in middle school, the Common Core's mathematics Standards in kindergarten through seventh grade do provide children with everything they need to know to succeed in an algebra class. According to the CCSS, "The Standards are designed to permit states to continue existing policies concerning Algebra I in 8th grade."

Does studying algebra earlier have negative effects?
Why the big push against learning algebra earlier? Education researchers say that while policymakers are trying to push harder math at an earlier age, it can actually be detrimental to students' later math education. A 2013 study from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research looked at students in 10 large school districts in North Carolina to study the results of taking algebra in 8th grade. What they found was that students who took higher-level math at a younger age didn't perform as well as their peers in later math classes. However, the negative effects were mostly seen in students who had scored in the bottom 60 percent in previous math classes. 

When should students take algebra?
Though many students may not be ready for algebra before entering high school, it has become extremely common for eighth graders to take it, which has shifted math standards in many states down a year. Whereas gifted students were previously taking algebra in eighth grade before their peers, now that it's the norm, some are even taking the high-level class in seventh grade. Many educators agree that a shift back to previous standards is a good idea. For children who perform well in math class, taking algebra in eighth grade may prepare them better for college-prep math in high school. For students who aren't ready in middle school, waiting until high school may have a positive effect on their math skills overall.