Schools work to get all fit eighth-graders into algebra

Staff WriterAugust 19, 2011 

— The Wake County school system is on a mission to make sure that every academically qualified eighth-grader is enrolled in Algebra I when the new school year starts next week.

New figures presented Thursday show that 85.2 percent of eighth-graders who are predicted to be ready for Algebra I have been enrolled in the course for the coming school year - an increase from 61.1 percent this past school year. But administrators said they will work with middle schools over the next week to get that percentage as close to 100 as they can - a major jump from two years ago when little more than half of the qualified students were enrolled.

"We're getting better. But when we say all students, we mean all students," Superintendent Tony Tata said Thursday at a meeting of a task force that has been looking at increasing enrollment in Algebra I.

Over the past two years there has been a major push by the state's largest school system to increase enrollment in Algebra I. Taking Algebra I in middle school improves a student's chances of taking more advanced math classes in high school and be ready to go to college.

The Republican school board majority that took office in December 2009 has made increasing Algebra I enrollment one of its major issues. Board members have repeatedly cited a report done in 2009 by the SAS Institute in Cary. The study showed that the majority of black and Hispanic students projected to be ready for Algebra I in the grade were not being placed in the course.

School officials now say that the percentage of academically ready students taking pre-algebra in seventh grade or Algebra I in eighth grade has jumped to 82.9 percent of black students, 83.8 percent of Hispanic students and 80.5 percent of low-income students.

"Thousands of capable students are now seeing academic success who in the past would have been denied opportunities because of institutional bias," school board Vice Chairman John Tedesco said.

Members of the task force stressed to school officials the need to communicate to parents that standardshaven't slipped in these advanced math courses as enrollment has increased. Tedesco pointed to how scores have remained high at middle schools that have aggressively increased enrollment.

"The standards aren't being lowered," he said. "These kids are capable. They're just being given an opportunity now."

In addition to efforts for the 2011-12 school year,Tedesco has been pushing for a school board policy that would set the expectation that all qualified middle school students would be placed in Algebra I and other advanced math classes.

The policy says all middle school students whom a SAS computer program determines to have at least a 70 percent probability of success will be placed in advanced math classes such as Algebra I. The policy would restrict teachers from using their judgment to hold back students the computer program has determined to be ready.

The new policy will be presented to the board in September.

"It's been a long road, but we're finally getting somewhere," Tedesco said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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