Summary: After the California Legislature made completion of Algebra 1 a high school graduation requirement in 2000, more California students complete Algebra 1 by the end of the eighth grade, and a larger percentage of students test at grade level.
Although the state sets high grade level math standards and funds textbooks, tests and supplementary instructional materials that align with math standards, aligning classroom instruction with the standards is up to the state's individual school districts. Education Code Section 51224.5(b) leveled the playing field by making Algebra 1 a high school graduation requirement for every student. Prior to its adoption, many districts did not require Algebra and had a two track system: college bound students took Algebra 1 and beyond, other students did not.
The statistics below show a significant increase over time in the number of students taking Algebra 1 by the eighth grade. The percentage and number of students who test at grade level proficiency has also increased.
The California Math Framework states that kindergarten through seventh grade math standards “necessitate more continued substantive, rigorous, and demanding curriculum and systematic instruction to better serve California students.” The state has adopted instructional materials for a basic 50 minute a day math program for students who are above, below and at grade level, an intervention program for fourth through eighth graders for students who are two or more grade levels below, and an Algebra readiness program for students in eighth grade or above who have not yet acquired prealgebra skills. The philosophy behind rigorous math standards is excerpted here from the California Math Framework:
The most important feature of this framework is its continued focus on the content of the mathematics standards adopted by the California State Board of Education in 1997. The goal of accelerating students’ progress through a standardsbased program has a significant impact on the entire curriculum. As specified by the standards, much of the content of the mathematics curriculum has shifted into earlier grades, and mathematics instruction in kindergarten through grade seven has been substantially strengthened. These standards necessitate a more continued substantive, rigorous, and demanding curriculum and systematic instruction to better serve California students.
A goal of this framework is to prepare all students to study algebra by the eighth grade. In 2000 legislation was enacted requiring students to complete Algebra I as a condition of receiving a high school diploma (Education Code Section 51224.5(b)). To support this legislative goal for all students, the framework includes guidance on the design of two new types of specialized instructional mathematics materials for students having difficulty achieving at grade level: a mathematics intervention program for students in grades four through seven whose mastery of prior gradelevel standards is incomplete and algebra readiness materials for students in grade eight or above who are not prepared to take a course in algebra. If, when, and how these materials may be used, to meet the needs of students, should be a collective decision involving teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, and students. Intervention materials are intended to accelerate students’ achievement so that students can succeed in the basic gradelevel program and complete Algebra I. As previously stated, the study of Algebra I in the eighth grade is the goal. The ability of districts to purchase and use algebra readiness materials should not restrict students who are ready for Algebra I in the eighth grade from enrolling in an Algebra I course.
An important theme stressed throughout this framework is the need for a balance in emphasis on computational and procedural skills, conceptual understanding, and problem solving. This balance is defined by the standards and is illustrated by problems that focus on these components individually and in combination. All three components are essential.
