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Algebra requirement dropped for California 8th-graders

February 4, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Eighth-grade algebra has been a required course for California students for 15 years, but no more. The state is dropping the algebra requirement.

The State Board of Education decided California eighth-graders will no longer be required to take Algebra 1. Instead, California adopted what's called Common Core Curriculum, a policy most states have moved to in which students can still take Algebra 1 if their districts can offer it, or take courses with elements of algebra. They'll have more opportunities for more advanced math in high school.

"This doesn't do anything to limit the possibility," said education consultant Gerry Shelton. "Students can take algebra in the eighth grade in the same way that they've always been able to, but it doesn't necessarily require them to."

Critics say schools that are struggling will choose not to offer Algebra 1, leaving low-income students ill-prepared for college.

With Algebra 1 required, the percentage of African-American students enrolled in the class went from 24 percent to 60 percent in the last nine years. For Latinos, that tripled to 63 percent.

It's hard to ignore how important Algebra 1 is. A student's success in that class is the single best predictor of college graduation. So why not start early?

Lately there's been a big push for STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Silicon Valley needs workers skilled in those fields.

"We shouldn't be 'dumbing down' our educational standards," said state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar).

Huff thinks deleting Algebra is a step backward.

"We have been left behind in the world when it comes to education standards," said Huff. "We will absolutely lose our place unless we keep a rigorous regime for California and this is definitely going in the wrong direction."

Supporters of changing the Algebra 1 requirements insist this doesn't mean less rigor, that it's always a good thing to have more uniformity and more consistency in student expectations.


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