Changes to Eighth-Grade Math Don’t Mean Students Are Learning Less

Many schools are making changes to eighth-grade math, forcing families to “restrain their ambitions and delay algebra until high school,” which Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews calls “inscrutable.” “Parents who need a clear reason for restraining math acceleration in middle school are not getting it,” he adds, suggesting the progression of learning under Common Core State Standards prevent students from reaching high-levels of math.

Jason Zimba, one of the lead writers of the Common Core math standards, explains that the Common Core puts a greater emphasis on fundamental math skills in early grade, including the building blocks for algebra, so more students are prepared for high level math. No matter what it’s called, eighth-grade math is now much more rigorous than it was, so there is less of a need to push students into advanced math, though there is certainly no restriction of doing so.

As an analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success reiterates, changes to middle school math don’t mean students are learning any less. Instead of emphasizing Algebra I in eighth-grade, Common Core State Standards call for classes that integrate algebra, geometry and statistics. “No matter what the class is called, students will be learning the material that will prepare them for success in advanced math classes in high school and beyond.”

A Los Angeles Times article explains that the shift “might help to solve a different problem: the segregation that happens inside schools and between classrooms, when black and Latino students are kept out of high-level classes.”

Contrary to Mathews’ claim that fewer students will reach the highest levels of math, changes to eighth-grade math instruction ensure more students will develop a strong understanding of numbers and functions by integrating math concepts.

As the Collaborative has written before: “What’s important is that students are being prepared for advanced math in high school and beyond – not what the class is called. …Now more students are being prepared to more rigorous math content, and fewer students are being pushed into an advanced math class they are not yet prepared to tackle.”