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By GreatSchools Staff

Last fall results from national math exams stirred up a tempest in a standardized test. It turns out math scores rose more quickly *before* No Child Left Behind was implemented, and fourth-grade math scores haven’t improved since 2007. As reported in the *New York Times,* the achievement gap remains a chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

What does this mean for your child? While pundits and politicians battle over the big issues, it's up to parents to stay on top of the little ones: their own kids' academic development. Make sure your tween or teen is on track for high school math with this guide to algebra.

It is frequently called the gatekeeper subject. It is used by professionals ranging from electricians to architects to computer scientists. It is no less than a civil right, says Robert Moses, founder of the Algebra Project, which advocates for math literacy in public schools.

Basic algebra is the first in a series of higher-level math classes students need to succeed in college and life. Because many students fail to develop a solid math foundation, an alarming number of them graduate from high school unprepared for college or work. Many end up taking remedial math in college, which makes getting a degree a longer, costlier process than it is for their more prepared classmates. And it means they're less likely to complete a college-level math course. For middle-schoolers and their parents, the message is clear: It's easier to learn the math now than to relearn it later.

The first year of algebra is a prerequisite for all higher-level math: geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, and calculus. According to a study (pdf) by the educational nonprofit ACT, students who take algebra I, geometry, algebra II, and one additional high-level math course are much more likely to do well in college math.

Algebra is not just for the college-bound. Even high school graduates headed straight for the work force need the same math skills as college freshmen, the ACT found. This study looked at occupations that don't require a college degree but pay wages high enough to support a family of four. Researchers found that math and reading skills required to work as an electrician, plumber, or upholsterer were comparable to those needed to succeed in college.

Algebra is, in short, the gateway to success in the 21st century. What's more, when students make the transition from concrete arithmetic to the symbolic language of algebra, they develop abstract reasoning skills necessary to excel in math and science.

Students typically take algebra in eighth or ninth grade. The benefit of studying it in eighth grade is that if your child takes the PSAT as a high school sophomore, she will have completed geometry. By the time she's ready to take the SAT or ACT as a junior, she will have completed algebra II, which is covered in both of these college admissions tests.

There's a growing movement to require algebra in seventh grade, but many seventh-graders aren't prepared for it, math educators say.

"Some kids get turned off of math because they start math too early," says Francis "Skip" Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). If you're wondering whether your child is ready to advance, he recommends talking to her current teacher. The goal is for your child to learn algebra well and stay engaged in math, not to push her through the curriculum as quickly as possible.

Math curriculum varies widely from state to state, so it can be difficult to determine whether your child is getting the right preparation for higher-level courses. For a better sense of how your child's schoolwork compares, look up your state's math standards. Or see what the NCTM recommends for preschool through high school.

W. Stephen Wilson, a math professor at Johns Hopkins University, reviewed K-12 math standards nationwide for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and has strong opinions about which offer the best guidance. He calls California's the " gold standard" and recommends that parents who want to make sure their kids are prepared for high school and college compare their curriculum to the California standards.

Wilson offers this advice to parents trying to evaluate their children's math instruction:"If a student isn't bringing home work that requires lots of manipulation and word problems, then there is probably a problem."

Fennell suggests talking to your child and her math teacher about how homework is used, specifically:

- Are homework assignments corrected and returned in a timely way?
- Is homework reviewed in class so students can learn from their mistakes?
- Does the teacher change the pace or direction of his or her instruction, based on student feedback?

You don't need to be a mathematician to ask good questions about your child's curriculum, Fennell adds. "Ask the teacher, 'Is it a repeat of math that should have already been mastered? When my child finishes this year, will he be ready for high school math?'"

Bill Moore directs Washington’s Transition Mathematics Project, which is working to better prepare students for college math. According to him, middle-schoolers need to have a solid foundation of “basic procedural skills that really make problem solving more fluid. There's a fundamental set of stuff that just has to be memorized, and then there's a sense of numbers, a sense of what's a reasonable answer."

How much should students rely on calculators? The issue has been debated by math teachers, university professors, and parents, but there is general agreement that calculators shouldn’t be a substitute for learning basic arithmetic and standard algorithms. “In some cases,” says Moore, “students go straight to calculators, and if the calculator says it’s right, then it must be right.”

"The calculator is an instructional tool,” says Fennell. “It should support but not supplant anything. You don't use it for 6 x 7."

*Updated January 2010*

04/10/2012:

""The calculator is an instructional tool,Ã¢â‚¬Â� says Fennell. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It should
support but not supplant anything. You don't use it for 6 x 7."
Far too many administrators believe that research indicates that rote
memory should never be used as a learning tool when in fact the research
indicates that it should not be the only learning tool. I have had math
teachers tell me that they would be fired if they required students to
memorize anything. Math instruction goes awry when educrats and eduticians
begin directing when and how math is taught. Prerequisites are necessary to
a solid foundation in math and when those prerequisites are circumvented
math education becomes a political and bureaucratic dog and pony show.
Welcome to NCLB and the Race to the Top. That's show business not education.
"

03/9/2012:

"Algebra isn't a higher level math. Disuade yourself of the belief. Higher
level math begins at real analysis, or Advanced Calc, and is based largely
on proofing. Even basic differential, integral, and multi variable
calculus is lower level math. These are quit frankly subjects which anyone
who puts in the time and effort can master. Higher level math's are the
cutting board for separating those who can handle higher man, from those
who can't. Unfortunately America has fallen so behind in math skills that
Algebra (A building block for learning to do math) is unknown by a large
portion of the population. This has lead to a dumbing down of Math in
America, all the way up through the University level. What is now Advanced
Calc, or real analysis, used to be entry University level calculus, and
what is now entry University Calculus used to be highschool math. America
is that bad off, and it's getting worse.
"

01/19/2012:

"you need to solve t=some problems interesting but need to put or add some
flare to it....
"

12/2/2011:

"Math is a great subject until you hit precalc and calc. My Chemistry,
software engineering, and all the computer courses required only a college
algebra's worth of math. I would say Trig is useful as long as its not
abstract. It doesn't make sense to have the authors of a math book claim
that the book is full of real world examples but when you take the math
exam only a single question actually applies to the real world and
everything else is so abstract that you will never use it in your life.
"

11/18/2011:

"Ok so if you become a rocket scientist or "electricians"?!?! When was the
last time a electrician had to use any of the BS they feed us in class. Im
confedent enough to say a good majority of jobs DONT need it and the
select few that needs to know why x+y somehow equals 4. After
multiplication math becomes nothing but school work youll never use
algebra... playing and simple its pointless "

10/10/2011:

"Thank you for this article. It really help me in my assignment.
"

07/14/2011:

"Algebra is a lot of fun! I just never understood why I will need it. This
article helps! Thank you!
"

03/31/2011:

"My 2nd grader is doing pre-algebra and has math on her mind all the
time...we also work on verbal analogies at home. My 6th grader is doing
algebra too. Never too early...get 'em while their brains are open and
elastic, just like we do with foreign languages."

03/28/2011:

"Pre-algebraic strategies have begun to be taught at kinder level. The
strategies advance as the grade level advances. In the third and fourth
grades the Math goes as such: 4+x = 8. X is the unknown digit for the sum
of 8. This is a pre-algebraic problem. Yes, algebra is very important.
Algebra I & II should be taken in high school. You should not be worried
about your child. However, if you are, arrange for tutoring. If I can
be of any help, please let me know. Sincerely, Trini Vaquera, B.S., M.ed."

03/23/2011:

"Does algebra matter?
Yes, and it does very much so.
So check out the book samples in this site:
http://www.runmath.com/BooksPrinted.htm"

03/21/2011:

"I really understand what this is saying, but is it good for my child to
begin Algebra I in 7th grade? I know what South Carolina's curriculum is,
but I'm worried that I'm pushing my daughter to much."

03/21/2011:

"If a child cannot multiply or divide or percentages he will never be able
to do algebra the end of the subject so maybe they should actually make
sure the kids have the basic math background that is not provided from our
wonderful schools time to actually be in the classroom instead of off
every 2 weeks because the poor poor teachers have to work so hard ha ha no
other profession has that amount of time off we work for a living"

12/1/2010:

"This is an interesting article, this all sounds great but some of us
actually have brains that never get Algebra to a great degree, even after
years of trying, tutoring and struggles. We must understand the basic of
Algebra, such as how to solve an equation, the order of operation etc.
Most of jobs now required or use the same equation over and over. So if we
know the basics, we will learn on that equation needed in that certain job
and of course we used it over and over again."

10/18/2010:

"I have heard through my son's Algebra 11 teacher that Harvard is not
accepting students who have had CPM math in high school, because they are
not able to perform at the level expected. This is very scary for many
districts in the US whose school boards have arrogantly ignored the
complaints of both parents and schools, yet wring their hands about the
poor math scores out there, and yet still insist that CPM is the way to
go. It is setting us up for national failure! Once again, certain students
will have to go through the trial and error process and suffer the
consequences until it is finally changed back to a more traditional
approach. Teachers are hired to TEACH, and CPM does not enforce that idea.
There are many teacher's upset about this approach as well!"

10/18/2010:

"The comments regarding students not learning the basics before launching
into algebra are SO true. I teach Algebra 2 and Precalculus and most of
my students still can't add 2 and -3 without a calculator. Fractions and
decimals? They just skip right over most of those. It hasn't always been
this way, but this past decade's children were shortchanged in the area of
mathematics. "

10/13/2010:

"No...my child is not excelling in math and is in the 12th grade. She is
horrible with algebra and lacks certain math skills. She does not feel
comfortable doing math unless she has a calculator. She has had this
problem since the 9th grade and I have been a diligent parent with my
child and school teachers. I have supported her thru tutoring and summer
school. She does not get nor does she likes math. PS She excells in
everything else except algebra! Now what?"

10/13/2010:

"This all sounds great but some of us actually have brains that never get
Algebra to a great degree, even after years of trying, tutoring and
struggles. Then there is the whole issue of right brain versus left brain
and how most gifted learn. Right brain and many gifted predominantly
learn in different ways needing unique teaching styles. For great info on
this read 'Right- Brained Children in a Left-Brained World' by Freed and
Parsons and 'The Gift of Dyslexia'. Sadly this is being largely
neglected or ignored within the educational world. Some of these
techniques have made a world of difference in kids who have lost hope and
confidence in themselves."

10/13/2010:

"We start algebra around 4th grade in the Montessori school in which I
teach. We use physical objects (Mortensen math materials) to represent
x2, x, and units, first with linear algebra and then with more difficult
forms. The students see what they're doing and have a visual
representation of what x2+2x+1 and its factors look like. Gradually they
move to abstraction. We have equipment we use for teaching mathematical
operations, fractions, decimals, etc. Each child receives individual
lessons, moving on when they have mastered the lesson. "

09/21/2010:

"Algebra teaches/reinforces critical thinking skills; whereas, some
subjects foster rote memorization and others directly apply to 'life
outside the classroom.'
Of course, it might be nice ONLY to take subjects we feel (at age 14 or
34) will apply directly to life/business. Unfortunately, none of us know
explicitly what life holds for us and what we'll 'need.'
"

07/19/2010:

"BS about the need for advanced math. Yes you must understand the basics
of Alg, such as how to solve an equation, the order of operations, etc.
Most jobs will use the same equations over and over. So if you know
basics, you will learn that equation needed in that certain job and use it
over and over again.
I'm almost 60 years old and people have been applying skills to trades
such as electricians, carpenters, etc. long before the push for all kids
to take trig and calc. It is propaganda put out by school administrators.
Plus the system used for math teaching is terrible. It is called College
Preparatory Math (CPM) and is a corporation in California. If you search
online you will find many math teachers do not like it. It has failed to
teach many, many children and will continue to fail. Oh the CPM has their
stats but you know the old saying about stats.
My son is in summer school for Alg 2. He is in 11th grade and failed it
last year. He must get a passing grade to graduate. He has enough
credits to graduate now, is taking his third year of Japanese (college
credits) and has a 3.5 average in Japanese. His GPA puts him on the honor
roll but Alg 2.....no way.
We had to pay $130 for summer school. Yesterday I found out that there is
no alg teacher in summer school. It is all on computer. They read and
then take tests. If he could understand Alg 2 by a self taught method,
would he be in summer school? No I don't think so. I am very, very ticked
off about no teacher.
We always hear about the disadvantage because US kids don't have the
science/math skills of Asian kids. Ok, imagine if today all the kids had
a GPA of 4 in Calc and Physics, what would change? Nothing would change
because there aren't enough jobs in this world that need the disciplines
for Calc. and physics.
My son did ok in Alg 1 and geometry.
Alg1 - 3
Geometry -3
The last time I had Alg2 was in 1989, received a B (didn't give numerical
grades back then) and they taught the class for an entire school year.
Now in my son's school you must complete Alg 2 in one semester and
chemistry in one semester (same for alg1 and geometry).
It is only math teachers that think the world revolves around factoring
polynomials. Aside from disciplines such as engineering, I will stand here
and say that 98% of all Alg2 equations will never be used again once a
child enters the real world. "

03/8/2010:

"Some kids just don't get math, at least the way it's taught in the USA in
public schools. My son has struggled from K-10, has taken algebra twice &
is still failing. As a result, he's a despondent 2nd yr freshman. We spend
hours on homework, have had tutors, meetings with the school, had him
tested for a learning disability (which dif. psychologists say dif.
things) to no avail. He's looking at year 3 of algebra II if he doesn't
pass (& he's only got half the scores, so it doesn't look good). I would
love to blame somebody, but what good does that do? Now I'm wondering
whether he'll be the first to fail HS cuz he can't pass algebra. We're
looking at alternative schools now.
By the way, those comments written here about blaming the teachers are
idiotic. I have 4 siblings who are teachers in poor, minority districts.
Their students have crack, drunken mothers, absent or abusive fathers, no
money, no role models, roaches & rats in the school, gangs and fights
every day. How can these kids possibly pass govt mandated tests the same
way the rest of 'normal' kids do? The principals and superintendents get
their jobs as political appointees without ever having to have taught a
day in the classroom.
How stupid to blame the teachers. What moron wrote that comment on this
page? Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity pushing the RepubliCANT agenda?"

01/19/2010:

"How long do our kids have to suffer with poor math teachers from middle
school to high school? Throw out the tenure (and the unions while your at
it), to get rid of the dead wood & start raising the salaries to compete
with industry and then start adopting Singapore's new math teaching
methods which work. Our methods do not work."

01/13/2010:

"I'm frustrated withe the CA math curriculum:
1) 'Exposing' kids to advanced topics early, before they learned the basic
concepts to master those topics, is a waste of time, frustrates the kids,
and limits the amount of time spent learning/teaching the basics, which
are KEY to future success in math.
2) Way too much time is spent on algebra -- Pre-Algebra, Alg 1 and Alg 2.
Teach it once, thoroughly, and move on. We had algebra in 7th grade when
I was a kid and it never seemed to be a problem for most kids. That is,
if they learned their basics thoroughly (see #1). Geometry/Trig was 8th,
and then start into pre-Calc, Calc in high school. That leaves more time
for Calc which is abstract, complicated and critical for doing well on AP
tests -- the Math AP test being a primary selection parameter for many
premium colleges. "

09/16/2009:

"Clearbrook Mom I hope you found a way out as you posted this summer and
well now it's fall. I would call and find out what educational
representatives there are for your district and find out what they say are
your rights with them and file a petition. Also, there are usually free
legal clinics or clinics at a low cost to consult an attorney, that could
be a route to go. If you talk to an educational represetative through
your district ask to see the policies governing this decision, and where
to look up possible legislation. "

07/13/2009:

"GOOD EVENING, I'M A MOM IN NEED OF SOME GOOD ADVISE! MY SON,ATTENDED CLEAR
BROOK HIGH ,AS A 9TH
GRADER LASTED YEAR,AND WILL BE A 10TH GRADER WHEN
SCHOOL STARTS BACK AGAIN. I DONT WANT MY SON TO ATTEND THIS SCHOOL NEXT
YEAR,BECAUSE ITS BEEN HARD FOR HIM TO FOCUS ON HIS GRADES WITH STUDENTS
ASKING
HIM WOULD HE LIKE TO BUY DURGS,OR OTHER KIDS WANTING TO FIGHT HIM,OR HIM
SEEING OTHER KIDS GET
BEAT UP. SO I WENT TO THE PRINCIPLE AND ASK THAT
I HAVE MY SON TRANSFER TO ANOTHER HIGH SCHOOL AND I WAS DENIED. I THEN
WENT AND REQUEST FOR AN INTRADISTRICT TRANSFER FOR FOUR DIFFERENT HIGH
SCHOOL AND ALL OF THE HIGH SCHOOL DENIED MY SON. HOW CAN THIS BE ? I WAS
TOLD AS LONG AS ITS A REQUEST FOR AN INTRADISTRICT TRANSFER WITHIN CCISD
HIGH SCHOOL IT WOULD BE GRANTED. BUT IT WAS DENIED
WHAT CAN I DO TO GET MY SON ACCEPTED IN A BETTER
HIGH SCHOOL?UGENT?????
SINCERLY
MRS ADEYEMI"

07/7/2009:

"I am shocked at the lack of intelligence of some of the people leaving
these comments! God help us all if these are the same people who are, or
are raising, our future leaders.
8th grade Algebra I teacher, Memphis, TN."

07/7/2009:

"this is a really good reading system
"

04/29/2009:

"I have two daughters in Middle School. I believe that MATH is really about
the instruction. My 8th grader hated math in 6th grade - crappy teacher -
in 7th grade she had a very strict, but extremely competent teacher who
made her like math; she was put into Honors Math in 8th grade an is taking
the regents and is going into Geometry Honors for 9th grade. A success
story for sure.... and guess what, now she loves MATH!
My 6th grader has another crappy Math Teacher. She is doing ok but hates
MAth. I am going to request the teacher who 'made a Difference' to my
other daughter. I am getting my 6th grader tutoring help as we are
loooking into propeling her ahead for the summer and studing 7th grade
Math at a learning center so she comes in a little ahead for 7th grade.
it is a competitve world and technology is flying quickly. Even if your
child is not going to be a DR. or Scientist, math teaches critical
thinking and will be used for many fields,
BTW both of my daughters are accomplished musicians, the music really
helps with developing the 'LEFT' side of the brain. Studies have proven.
Yes, not eveyonr is college material, but, it is in the best interest of
the future for your child, to challenge them to be the best they can be!
"

04/29/2009:

" Many California school districts use Math textbooks that emphasize
Algebra in the 6th grade editions. In my experience students are
struggling. (standardized tests as proof) As a result , Algebra is being
introduced at too early an age when students have not mastered the basic
Math concepts."

04/29/2009:

"this is sweet i would love to have my kids go here when the get oldrer
Go Jesus"

04/13/2009:

"My eighth grade daughter has received A's on test and report cards in 7th
and eighth grade. Her teacher says that she should be going into
pre-algebra in 9th grade. She is going to a Catholic school, so we
expected her to be going into Agebra 1. Does this sound normal? To top it
off, her teacher reccomends for her to see a tudor this Summer (their are
only 6 kids in her math class). She also has received a 3.9 on her last
report card. I would appreciate any feedback.
Thank you"

04/2/2009:

" I think this is rediculouss ther arw alot of kids headed for a fall and
its wonder ful to be able to enjoy school and have fun learning and it
would be wonderful if we all could be one of those highly educated over
paid jack asses that were the bullies in high school we live in a litle
northern town and 90 percent of the students are not college materal why
do they need it i would rather see the Vacational classes put back into
our schools we are still goingto be just ordinary peoplethere are all
kinds of people in the worl who do alot for us with out the assistace of
algedr geometry and biology or phisical science we have the those kinds of
people who fix thier cars. we are still going to be home makers and all of
us who didnt go to college and went to Vocation scholls turned out ok and
even if my child was college material we are like alot of parents up here
who cant afford it! And my daughter has a hard enough of a time with
fracttions and long division because they !
have taught her how to use a calculater rather than her brain and now she
struggles and gets frustrated with the assingments in school .In the near
future see alot of drop outs because the work is just to difficult and
school is hard enough if your not smart beautiful or athletic you are
tortured beyond belief and nothing is done . The new curriclium will
only compound the problem and those who cant handle it ,who dont drop out
will most likely commet suicide or become drugies what are they going to
do then ? Blame the Parents as usual ! ? why cant we have a say in how and
what are kids are taught . i hope they make it so all kids will prosper
and stay in scool and graduate and enjoy thier last years of child hood ! "

02/20/2009:

"Precise and to the point. My 9th grader is a straight A student in MEGSSS
Algebra II and I am pointing this article out to her so that she does't
forget why she needs it. Lack of math skills is one of the main failures
of our educaaational system."

02/10/2009:

"what if your child has no intention of going to college why does he/she
need to have algabra in school.my child hates it and it only causes
problems at home,because she doesnt want to learn it and says shes never
going to use it because shes not going to college. what should i do? this
class is bringing her selfesteme down because of her grades."

12/23/2008:

"I feel Algebra is keeping a high number of students from getting a good education. Because a high number of students will go to vocational schools and by that time their brains are 'more ready' (and don't tell me that's bad English. If it is 'way better' is bad English too!)to accept the math they need to make a good income. In lower schooling they are busy trying survive the pitfalls of adolescence, bullies, and the lack of teacher interactions because they are set in their ways, and 'If you don't do it my way, its the highway'.
Give the kids a break and allow them to enjoy getting their education."

11/12/2008:

"I agree 100% with the basic premise of the article, but I do not believe that all students need to master Algebra to the same level. There are students who will pusue lives that never require solution of the dreaded 'word problem.' There should be some type of functional math that is the minimum needed to function as an adult. And I want to add Statistics to this idea. I teach a course labeled 'Survival Statistics' in which the premise is that they may be lying to you and here is how to protect yourself. An intorductory course in statistics should be provided to every public school student. Not equations and proofs, but applications and how the same data can be used to arrive at various conclusions."

10/31/2008:

"An excellent write-up.
Where can I get curriculun for Basic Algebra,Algebra I and AlgebraII from ?
Thanks!
Suresh.
India"

10/21/2008:

"Where do I get information on getting a algebra tutor?"

10/13/2008:

"I think your website is very informative and I congratulate you for a thorough job.
However, I think you miss something with 'Why is Algebra a big deal'.
It is valuable, along with other mathematics courses through calculus for these three BIG reasons:
1. It helps students deal with abstract concepts.
2. It helps students develop their problem-solving skills.
3. It helps students learn how to read technical material (quite different than reading a novel!) and make sense of it.
In short, we (mathematics instructors) are developing the students' left-side brain.
"

09/26/2008:

"My kids' schools down in Georgia are not good compared to the education I received up north in a Great School.
It's almost as if the culture down here doesn't put emphasis on making good grades, as well as the importance of college prep programs in high schools. Just the other day my teenaged stepchild asked why he needed math if he wants to be a professional singer. I told him it was a core upon which to build analytical and abstract thinking, and that math is used in some way, for many things we do. It is an important foundation and when our kids are having trouble in math, they need to get good help and extra homework so they finally 'get' it. I hated math as a child, and I was not very good at it. I realized the importance of needing a good math background when I was in college and had to learn chemistry and physiology in my nursing studies. I ended up taking a remedial course so I could pas in other studies which required that math background."

05/29/2008:

"Interesting article. I'm not a parent but a Maths teacher with long teaching experience in India and Singapore.Regarding the use of calculator,in India children calculate fast without calculator. In Singapore, they have two Maths papers at O Level(Xth level) exam.: one that tests concepts with easy manual calculations and the other with use of calculator allowed.
BTW, the reactions show that one thing is common...Maths is a nightmare for many students all over the world."

04/28/2008:

"my son has struggled with math forever. He is in ninth grade and is failing miserably.He has never understood all of it and has explained that to teachers.He has been given less work..which he still dosen't understand..he has NEVER passed a math test.so he feels defeated.and has totaly given up..So the system continues to use the same methods of teaching!!!! Yes, he has attention deficit so everything is all jumbled with the numbers etc"

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