When did you start Algebra for the first time? The majority of adults will say 9th grade. Some students who were advanced might have taken it in the 8th grade and even done Pre-Algebra in the 7th grade. This was the case for me. I was considered on the advanced track and took 7th grade Pre-Algebra, 8th grade Algebra and was taking Calculus my senior year. I loved Algebra, it came naturally to me when I started learning about it in the 7th grade. I don’t really remember too much what I did differently in Pre-Algebra vs. Algebra, especially since I had a whole year of it but given we had a year, we went very slowly which allowed me to develop strong math skills. Keep in mind that I went on to get a Bachelors degree and Masters Degree in Mathematics and then a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education so I am a math minded person. If I was in school these days, things would probably have turned out very different for me in mathematics!

Our old curriculum, prior to Common Core, in North Carolina had students doing middle school math which consisted of a mix of Geometry, Arithmetic, Probability, and Statistics. They began to explore a little bit of Algebra in the 7th grade and much more Algebra in the 8th grade. They repeated all these Algebra concepts again in the 9th grade when they officially took Algebra 1. Of course, a few students would be on a track 1-2 years ahead of that schedule. Some schools pushed students to go the 8th grade Algebra route and others held students back for fear they were pushing them.

The new Common Core curriculum has changed the scope and sequence of middle school quite a bit. Students begin learning quite a bit of Algebra 1 in the 6th grade. This is for ALL students, not just the advanced students. Sixth grade math has students multiplying with exponents, using the distributive property with variables, combining like terms, solving 2 step equations, writing algebraic expressions and even coming up with linear functions from word problems. This is pretty advanced stuff and very abstract. For your above average student, it should not be a problem to master. The average student may struggle trying to learn these Algebraic concepts at age 11 and those who are already not strong in math, will be totally lost and this will start their spiral towards mathematical failure.

Should your child be learning Algebra 1 concepts in 6th grade? Is he or she developmentally ready for it? Does he have a strong background in arithmetic and the prerequisites that come before beginning to master Algebra 1? I believe there are MANY children that are NOT yet ready for this leap and that it is a disservice to them to put them in a class with these standards before they are ready, setting them up for failure. Why do we remain opposed to “tracking”? There needs to be levels for students and Common Core 6 might be a reasonable goal for 75% of students (maybe – that high, I am being optimistic) but the other 25% deserve to be in class that fits their developmental level and allows them to master concepts and basics before pushing them into these advanced Algebra concepts at such a young age.

My own children are advanced math students, so I feel it is important to consider both ends of the spectrum. Students do not stay together based on age in mathematics, they begin to divide early and we don’t seem to accommodate this, causing so many students to hate math, feel like a failure in math, and be unsuccessful. If instead, we just were willing to step back and let some students move more slowly through math while let others move more quickly, many more students could have success in math.

As a math educator, I would rather have 100% of students MASTER their classes even if 25% get to Calculus, 50% get to Pre-Calculus, 30% get to Algebra 2 and only 20% make it through Geometry by graduation but they all have mastery of math to that level than what we have now which is requiring all students to take courses equivalent to Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, and another math but at a mastery level for some as low as 20% in these courses!

I continue to express my dislike for Common Core Mathematics but not for the reasons so many others dislike it (political, etc.) but for the lack of appropriate education and expectations it has for students.

Written by:

Lynne Gregorio, Ph.D.

Robin

January 31, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I could’ve written this (except that I didn’t major in math and stopped after Calc 3 in college). However, I taught math for many years (pre-Algebra through Calculus), and although writing is my current area of teaching, I’m very concerned about the CC push toward math ‘proficiency.’ My son, as a 6th grader, should be doing Algebra I (he’s ahead). We have him taking pre-Algebra again (he took it last year) because we want him to have a solid foundation — and what good will it do him to get so far ahead? It is his classmates I worry about. Some are two solid years behind in math already, and because they’re doing away with remedial math classes in our local middle schools, these kiddos have no chance of catching up. They believe they’re stupid, when really it’s the system that’s failing them. 🙁

Madison Coleman

February 28, 2015 at 4:13 pm

I’m a 6th grade adv math student and some people just can’t focus. It wastes many students time because all they do is goof off and never listen to the teacher. All I can do is wait and see if I move on to the next grade.