PACE seminar tackles 8th grade algebra in a time of common core

With the adoption of the common core standards and coming decisions over new assessments and accountability goals, the thorny issue of eighth grade Algebra is set to resurface.

While the issue is unlikely to provoke the kind of dramatic confrontation as in the recent past, the new common core standards give school administrators some latitude in providing the best options for individual students - which will soon raise many questions about implementation.

In an effort to help sort out the issues, a PACE symposium will be held this Friday in Sacramento featuring Trish Williams and Matt Rosin from EdSource along with Jennifer O'Day from the California Collaborative on District Reform and Deb Sigman from the California Department of Education.

The idea, said Rosin, is to help clarify what the issues are related to eighth grade math as the state makes a critical turn.

"We're hoping to at least give people some insight into what they should be keeping up to date on," said Rosin, a senior research associate at EdSource and part of the team that published a widely cited 2011 study of longitudinal data of California's seventh and eighth grade math scores.

"We won't be able to answer everyone's questions and we know there's no single way to best do algebra placement," he explained. "But hopefully we'll be able to help people ask the nuanced questions about how they do their work, what their goals are and what state policy context might look like moving forward."

The 2011 study and a subsequent update this year analyzed almost 70,000 eighth grade students from 303 schools in a rare use of longitudinal data. Among their findings was that since 2003 there had been a dramatic increase in the number of middle grade students taking Algebra - but many students were not prepared and therefore failed.

Rosin said the Friday seminar will include a review of the study data and highlights of some of the issues the findings raised.

"The study we did was one of the first chances to really look at the longitudinal data at the state level and see what's been the effect of algebra one placement in grade 8 in terms of how well prepared students were going into the course," he said.

The issue is relevant now because decisions related to common core have revived questions about how to best prepare students for success in math.

"(Common core) gives us an opportunity to really think carefully about what that means, what our goals are for students," he said.

The seminar, one in a regular series hosted by the Policy Analysis for California Education, is scheduled to begin at 11:30, Friday April 29 at the UCCS Conference Room, 1130 K Street. Lunch will be provided.

Please RSVP to 916-669-5425.

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