Who Should Really Be Taking Algebra I in Middle School?

The idea that we should accelerate students’ math curriculum to ensure they can complete Calculus before graduation was a trend in the early 2000s that we now are able to see the results from. Requiring students to take Algebra I in middle school has proven problematic because there are many students being accelerated without the required foundational skills for future math success.

While these students may be able to earn a passing grade and pass the state test for Algebra I, the lack of foundational skills and many standards that are left unmastered eventually catch up with students as they pursue higher math courses. With our shift to college- and career-readiness standards, we must rethink how we are determining placement into accelerated math classes for middle school students and how we are designing the middle school curriculum to ensure students do not have gaps in their learning.

During a recent Five-Star Technology Solutions webinar, Kendall Jankay, our Pivot Inspect Assessment Director, presented research to support successful middle school math acceleration. First, we must look at multiple data points to ensure the students we accelerate have the skills to be successful. Data supports that students need to have passed their sixth-grade math class with at least 90% in the class. While grades can be subjective, this is still a useful measure. Teacher recommendations should also be considered when looking at grades.

In addition, students should take a test that measures the foundational number sense, computation, measurement, algebra, and functions skills from grades 4, 5, and 6. Students should also earn at least a 90% on this 6th-grade end-of-year placement test before being considered for an accelerated pathway.

Students who meet these criteria should have a curriculum that fully addresses both the seventh and eighth-grade college- and career-readiness standards when they are in 7th grade. It is never recommended that students simply skip eighth-grade math.  There are too many essential skills required for future mathematics learning included in the eighth grade standards for students to simply skip them. A deliberate scope and sequence of seventh and eighth grade standards need to be provided to students prior to beginning their accelerated Algebra I course. This is not only necessary for success in Algebra I, but for success in additional higher-level math courses. For schools that have historically skipped some grade-level standards, we recommend students at the end of 7th grade also be given a summative 8th-grade assessment on which they should also achieve 90% before being moved into Algebra I as an eighth-grader.

Our goal to ensure mathematically proficient students who have the confidence to tackle challenging math content can best be supported by making sure we are appropriately placing students in math courses. Pivot Inspect can help with all of this by providing schools a Middle School Math Acceleration Placement Test for sixth-grade students and end-of-year assessments on grade 7 and 8 standards. 

Written by Schauna Findlay Relue