One of the hallmarks of states’ implementation of high, comparable education standards are changes to math instruction – which we have written about a lot. Starting in early grades, teachers are encouraging students to explore multiple problem-solving strategies, which help build conceptual understanding with numbers and functions, and also help students complete math problems quickly and accurately!
As part of that transition, many schools have begun to restructure the progression of learning – particularly when it comes to eighth grade math. In place of Algebra I, some districts have implemented “general” math classes, which cover concepts of algebra, geometry and statistics. These courses are equally challenging, no matter what schools end up calling them, and are intended to create a logical progression of learning to help students build the foundational skills they need to succeed at higher levels of math.
Jason Zimba, a math advocate and a lead writer of the Common Core State Standards, explains the shift revises “the previous ‘strand model’ of mathematics content in order to emphasize arithmetic, algebra, and the connections between them.” Or, in layman’s terms, students learn related concepts together – which helps build a stronger understanding of mathematical operations than when those concepts are taught in a silo.
For some parents, the idea that their child is not taking Algebra I (as they may have when they were in eighth grade) has been a point of contention. Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, for example, wrote previously that it is “inscrutable” that families would have to “restrain their ambitions and delay algebra until high school.”
Here, it is important to distinguish between algebra (lowercase “a”) and Algebra (capital “A”). Students are still learning algebra in eighth-grade – and they are learning it alongside geometry and statistics – even though the class might not be called Algebra. Students aren’t learning any less; they are learning more effectively. Whereas before they might have learned algebra one year, geometry another and possibly statistics another, now they are getting those together, which allows them to draw connections between all three subjects.
There are ancillary effects of this shift in instruction, as well. Today, all students are introduced to math concepts necessary to succeed in higher level content, not just advanced students. A Los Angeles Times article explains 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.”
The bottom line is that no matter what eighth-grade math is called, students are learning material that will prepare them for advanced math in high school and beyond. The approach might be different than how parents learned math in middle school, but that’s not a bad thing.