Robert E. Ellis Middle School

Advanced Math Course vs. Algebra I in Eighth Grade

 

Is it true that Sumner County Schools is moving away from offering Algebra I at the eighth grade level?

Yes. Sumner County Schools is replacing Algebra I at the eighth grade level with a more rigorous and more encompassing advanced math class.

So, three levels of math courses will still be offered?

That is correct. Just as in years past, there will be three course opportunities. Students will be placed in a Standard Math Course, Advanced Math I, or Advanced Math II based upon a district-approved rubric.

How does the rubric assess a student’s readiness for these advanced math courses?

The district-approved rubric helps determine the best placement for students based on their previous performance and demonstration of ability. It uses each student’s scores from his/her seventh grade TCAP assessment (quantitative data), the student’s yearly math average from seventh grade (quantitative and qualitative data), and teacher recommendation (qualitative data).

Is this just an attempt by the district to simply move away from offering Algebra I without putting anything in place for its higher-achieving students?

No. In fact, the course that has been designed by eighth grade algebra teachers is much more rigorous. It covers all of the eighth grade standards (for which students will be held accountable). Plus, it covers Algebra I standards, geometry standards, and even some Algebra II standards. A draft of the Scope of Work for this course is located at the end of this document.

Why make this change?

There are several reasons. First, it has become evident the last several years that there are very few students who can actually afford to miss/skip an entire grade level and not reap any repercussions in later math courses. When a student moves from the seventh grade math course to Algebra I, he/she basically misses 35 standards (eighth grade math). While the skipped standards may not impact a student immediately, the missed standards may come back to haunt a student later. This, and the notion that eighth grade students are most often not mature enough to grasp symbolic relationships and intangible equations, is why most high school math teachers are not fans of students taking Algebra I in middle school.

With the onset of more rigorous standards and the new TNReady Assessment, the brightest students are being handicapped by the allowance for them to dismiss their eighth grade year of math standards. Eighth grade math students will be sorely penalized when taking the TNReady as eighth graders and in future years, if our district does not make a change. It is the job of schools and the district to prepare our students for all of which they will be held accountable, and we want to do that.


Didn’t our district and state move to new standards a few years ago?

Our district began implementing the new state standards in

grades K-2 three years ago. The kindergarteners who entered school learning

the new state standards are now in third grade. Therefore, we have a

school population of students in grades 4-12 who were not privy to the

more rigorous standards the whole of their school career. One can

imagine the gaps in learning that teachers are having to work extremely

hard and creatively to fill, while being held accountable for all the

standards leading up to the specific grade level.

The current eighth grade math standards are not the historical,

typical eighth grade math standards. Our students are asked to perform

math skills and meet specific standards that several years ago were high

school and college standards.

So this change is about students performing well on state testing? Why does it matter that my child knows each standard?

State standards define what students are supposed to learn in a given school year. The standards are designed to give students the skills and knowledge they need to prepare them for success at the next grade level and ultimately for success in college, other post secondary education or for a career.

Math skills are like building blocks. Students need the opportunity to learn and master each math standard in order to be prepared for success in higher-level math classes. The primary concern for teachers, principals, and district staff is what is best instructionally for middle school students currently and later in their math career.

 

So even though eighth grade students took Algebra I in eighth grade, the majority of those students took the course again in high school?

Yes. That is true. Most all students who took Algebra I in eighth grade ended up

retaking the same course, with the same standards, in high school. They

may have taken Algebra I honors, but they still took Algebra I again.

Think about this; would it sound reasonable for a student to take US

History one year and then, even though he/she did not fail the course,

take US History for a second time, less than a year later?

Algebra I on the middle school level has always been controversial for both levels of teachers ­ high school and middle school. Years ago, when Algebra I was first opened up as a possibility for eighth graders, our high schools were on a traditional schedule.  Thus, students only had four opportunities to take a math course. Algebra I was slated for the eighth grade for only the brightest of the bright, students who

wanted to get Algebra I out of the way in order to take higher-level math

courses in high school. The intent was never for students to repeat

Algebra I in high school.  Yet, from the get-go, high school teachers were

seeing that students who took Algebra I in middle school were entering

their high school math classes with learning gaps. Therefore, the practice

of repeating Algebra I was born.

 

 

My student is bright, and he/she needs to be on a college track. Won’t this prevent or limit him/her from taking the higher-level high school courses?

Currently, our high schools are on a block schedule.  Therefore, students have up to eight opportunities to take math courses in a traditional setting. With the addition of virtual courses, students have even more opportunities to take higher-level courses. In essence, there is no need for students to skip a year’s worth of standards in order to take higher-level math courses.

Although course offerings differ among the district’s high schools due to staffing, size of student population, and student interest, a student could take Algebra I his/her freshman fall semester, geometry his/her freshman spring semester, Algebra II his/her sophomore fall semester, advanced algebra and trigonometry his/her sophomore spring semester, statistics, pre-calculus, or calculus his/her junior fall semester, and still have three semesters to take AP Statistics, AP Calculus AB, and/or AP Calculus BC.

Per the State Board of Education and in order to graduate, students are required to complete four units of mathematics including Algebra I and II, Geometry or the equivalent, and another mathematics course beyond Algebra I. Students must be enrolled in a mathematics course each school year.

Why make the change now?

This topic has been discussed for many years. For the past four years, the discussion has been a bi-annual conversation and analysis of data. This past school year, the conversation began in the spring of 2014, and it has continued as an ongoing conversation. It was discussed at every principal meeting in SY 2014-2015. In addition to already scheduled monthly principals’ meetings, middle school principals met five more times to discuss and debate the change. An additional sixth meeting was held with the new math textbook and curriculum vendor. Teachers met in Scopes of Work sessions three times, and the textbook/curriculum vendor also met with eighth grade Algebra I teachers.

With the implementation of TNReady next school year and the purchase of new math textbooks and curriculum resources, school leadership and district leadership felt that this was the perfect time to make the change.

To ensure the right and best decision was being made for students, the district has also been researching and collecting data. It now has enough data to recommend without hesitation that this change is needed.

What about the claim that this decision was made by two or fewer people and school leaders and teachers did not have a say in the decision?

First, please know that district decisions are never made in that fashion. Also, please see the above question and response. Middle school principals, high school principals, and high school teachers have been asking for this change for many years. Contrary to what may or may not have been indicated, there was never an attempt to keep this transition a secret. The qualifying rubric that is used to place students in advanced math and algebra is discussed every spring.


So why are we just now hearing about the change?

The communication plan was contingent on several things: resources and materials to make the new, better-aligned, and more rigorous course a reality, Scope of Work to show an alignment of standards and the progression of higher-level thinking skills, a pacing guide, and teacher preparation and input into the above items. The district wanted all of these things in place so that parents, Board Members, and other stakeholders could see and understand that what was being proposed as a replacement to Algebra I was truly better for higher-achieving students.

There were several things that hindered the communication plan. First, the new math textbook/curriculum resources were not approved to be placed in the budget until May. The Board did not approve the budget until mid-May, and the County Commission just recently approved the budget, and thus, the purchase.

This budget schedule delayed teachers from designing the Scope of Work, and without the purchase of the resources, the district would not have been equipped to make the transition. Any time a school or district designs a new course, the district and/or school is obligated to provide its teachers with the resources necessary to be successful teaching the standards associated with the course. This particular course, developed to ensure the satisfaction and approval of all stakeholders (parents, students, high school teachers, middle school teachers, principals, and district instructional staff), was designed to cover all of the eighth grade math standards (for which students will be held responsible) plus extend students into not only Algebra I standards but also geometry and Algebra II standards.

TNReady trainings are set to take place in June. These trainings will allow for teachers and principals to take a more critical look at the new course standards and Scopes of Work (of all three eighth grade math courses) to ensure that the district is doing everything possible to prepare students for this next generation of state testing.

 

What textbook/curriculum resources will the district be using?

All math courses in middle school will be using Carnegie Learning. The middle school math adoption team was very forward thinking and progressive in adopting Carnegie Learning for the middle school curriculum. Carnegie is unlike other textbook companies in that the only thing they do is math. Developed by cognitive and computer scientists, along with veteran math teachers’ assistance, the program was begun at Carnegie Mellon University. Please visit http://www.carnegielearning.com/about-us/mission-vision/ to learn about their mission and vision.

The adoption and now approved purchase of Carnegie Learning will make the transition easier for teachers. It will give students and parents an online support system, as well as online practice/advancement tools.

 

So, there will still be three levels of math for eighth graders?

Yes. As in the past 15 years, there will be three levels of math courses offered in the eighth grade. Three course offerings will be available in order to reach and grow all levels of learners. Also, as in the past, rubrics will be used to delineate student placement.


So, to be clear, there will still be an advanced level math course that covers Algebra I standards, as well as eighth grade standards. Students are not losing any credit with this change because it was a rare occurrence when an eighth grade student actually received credit on his/her high school transcript for taking Algebra I in eighth grade, and this change will not limit students in any way in regard to taking higher-level math courses in high school.

That is all correct. There really is no negative to this change. The positive is that while extending higher-learning opportunities, schools will ensure that eighth grade math standards are covered.

Is Sumner County the only district in the state and/or nation considering this change?

No. There are several districts in the state that have already moved away from offering Algebra I to middle school students.

If I have additional questions, whom may I contact?

Feel free to contact your child’s principal, the district office (ask for a middle school coordinator, the High School Coordinator, the Assistant Director of Schools for Instruction, or the Director of Schools), or a math teacher.

Our Shared Vision

Sumner County Schools is a collaborative culture of high performing students, teachers, and school communities.

Mission Statement

Sumner County Schools commits to growing learners who are college and career ready through quality instruction, effective use of resources, building a collaborative culture, and strong leadership.