New California Algebra Rule Stirs Controversy

July 11, 2008 9:33:40 PM PDT
Eighth grade is about to get tougher. California may soon become the first state in the nation to require all eighth graders to be tested in algebra. It's a move supported by Governor Schwarzenegger, but critics say it may push some kids to drop out of school.Just about half of California's eighth-graders currently take algebra and only 23-percent of those score as proficient on standardized tests. But the state board of education is giving school districts three years to get all eighth graders ready to be tested in algebra-1.

Jack O'Connell: "I do believe that you're going to see an increase in getting kids turned off of school and yes potentially dropping out of school when they get frustrated by not being successful in their algebra classes in 8th grade."

While Governor Schwarzenegger strongly supports the board's action ? State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell says kids need more time and schools more resources to implement such a drastic change.

O'Connell: "The governor sent a letter saying that he's committed to this program without an additional nickel."

Fresno Unified School officials say they have been planning for this day.

Mabel Franks: "We have already put plan in place to make that move, with the coaches and the mentoring and a real strategic look at the new textbooks that are coming and providing interventions."

One program helping students prepare is this Summer Algebra Academy for 6th and 7th graders at Fort Miller Middle School.

Salazar: "It's just building all the skills that they need a proactive approach versus waiting until the student is failing in Algebra is lost and has lost all hope."

Currently only 28-percent of eighth graders at Fresno Unified take algebra ? of those 43% scored proficient last year.

Like most districts, FUSD suffers from a shortage of math teachers ? yet the district believes it is capable of meeting the board's mandate.

Mabel Franks: "We're looking at current 5th graders that will be 8th graders, not current 8th graders and we're already seeing big changes in students ability to understand math, so in three years you can accomplish alot."

Because California was out of compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The state was under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education to change its current eighth-grade math test by August first, or face losing millions of dollars in funding.
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