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The Misplaced Math Student: Lost in Eighth-Grade Algebra


"The nation's push to challenge more students by placing them in advanced math classes in eighth grade has had unintended and damaging consequences, as some 120,000 middle-schoolers are now struggling in advanced classes for which they are woefully unprepared.

Algebra in eighth grade was once reserved for mathematically gifted students. But a campaign to extend algebra to many more eighth graders, which began in the 1990s on the grounds that greater equity and future opportunities require broader access to algebra, has had considerable success: The proportion of eighth graders taking algebra nearly doubled from 1990 to 2007, reaching 31 percent, and today more U.S. eighth graders take algebra than any other math course. Until now, however, no empirical evidence has existed to demonstrate whether the push for universal eighth- grade algebra is a good idea, particularly for students who have weak math skills.

The new Brown Center study tackles this question by examining rarely used research data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Unlike most NAEP data, these restricted- use files allow investigators who have obtained a license to drill down and examine student-level information on a nationally representative sample of 160,000 eighth graders."