Bad eighth grade math placements--an update
A thoughtful reader who signs on as "raging moderate" (my own self-concept too) asked two good questions about my recent Local Living column on bad timing in placing students in Algebra 1. Here is raging moderate's query, followed by the answer from Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, who supplied me the data.
[Raging moderate first quoted my piece:] "But Loveless showed that we are also missing students ready for algebra. Among the top 10 percent of eighth-graders, 18 percent are not in algebra or above, and that percentage is 24.6 for top black, Hispanic and low-income students."
I have two questions, Jay:
1. How do those percentages translate in terms of actual numbers -- in other words, how big is the sample that produces that 18% and 24.6%?
2. Will you do a similar racial breakdown for 28.6% in the bottom 10% who are nevertheless enrolled in Algebra I or above -- in other words, how many minority kids are being pushed into higher math before they are ready to make the racial numbers look good?
The bottom line of your story is that kids need to be evaluated for readiness individually, not by group. I also question whether the fallout of letting unready kids "struggle with" Algebra because some of them will succeed as a result is worth it to the ones who struggle and don't succeed. Are you willing to sacrifice them? I'll bet many of them would do much better if they got a year of Algebra prep followed by Algebra I in 9th grade.
I did some ballpark calculations to answer these two questions. Note that the true figures are 18.0% and 26.4%. (the 24.6% in your column transposed two digits--sorry, I checked your wording and did not the re-check the numbers, which were correct in the original email giving you the stats.)
1. The 18.0% and 26.4 % are approximately:
18.0% of all high achievers in 8th grade are enrolled in general math, pre-algebra or other = 68,000 students.
26.4 % of high achievers who are black, Hispanic, or poor are enrolled in general math, pre-algebra. or other= 14,000 students.
2. Racial breakdown of the misplaced students (10th percentile kids in algebra or above):
white 18.5% 22,000
black 38.4% 46,000
hispanic 38.6% 46,000
| November 9, 2009; 4:23 PM ET
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