THE ALGEBRA OPTION IN ARIZONA

By Kelly Powell

Governor Ducey identified proficiency in algebra skills by the end of eighth grade as a strategic goal for Arizona to ensure a world-class, 21st century education in his “Education Matters Arizona” initiative. But according to 2014 data, Arizona ranks 37th in the percentage of students in seventh and eighth grade enrolled in an Algebra class.

According to data from the 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection and 2014 Common Core of Data, about 12 percent of Arizona middle grade students took Algebra I. Though Arizona outpaces Georgia, West Virginia, Tennessee and a few other states, our state has some ways to go to reach the national average of 17 percent of seventh and eighth grade students enrolled in an Algebra I class.

I know, I know…it would be better to just report eighth grade data, but the collection instrument grouped seventh and eighth grade students together and there’s no way to separate out the results by grade. The map (left) shows how Arizona compares relative to other states in the proportion of seventh and eighth grade students enrolled in Algebra I. Click on the map to see details for all states and for every middle school in the country.

California, Virginia and Minnesota lead the country in middle school Algebra I enrollment, with Minnesota markedly ahead of the rest of the country (spurred by MN’s graduation requirements no doubt).

STATE RANKS: PERCENTAGE OF GRADE 7 AND 8 STUDENTS ENROLLED IN ALGEBRA I (2014)

The reality is that in Arizona, like many other states, students begin to accelerate in math in fifth through eighth grade, taking high school courses and assessments. According to AzMERIT data (Arizona’s statewide assessment) about 19 percent of eighth grade students took a higher level end-of-course math exam in 2016—the majority of these students taking the Algebra I exam. Most of you, skeptical readers, do not know this fact because data on eighth grade end-of-course testers is not reported anywhere publicly. These results will be published soon in an upcoming blog From the Center, so stay tuned.

To date, Arizona has only focused on AzMERIT scores in eighth grade that exclude advanced middle school math students taking Algebra I and II and Geometry classes. The lack of transparent data on math acceleration creates big hurdles for policy makers who aim to advance policies that will drive academic excellence in math. Arizona could choose (or not) to set Algebra I as the goal for eighth graders like Minnesota. Or we could choose (or not) to follow Governor Ducey’s strategic goal for all students to be “proficient in algebra skills by the end of grade 8.”  Regardless where you land, an informed debate would benefit from a public reporting of number of accelerated math students in fifth through eighth grade along with their performance.

As always, if you want to carp about my use of aphorisms or discuss the proper way to analyze and interpret Civil Rights Data Collection files, drop me a line at kelly@centerforstudentachievement.org.

You may also like