Surprising comments and data in the new ACT Profile Report for Kentucky for the Graduating Class of 2013 shed more light on one of the most contested parts of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in math.
That contested CCSS policy is the shifting of Algebra 1 from the eighth grade to the ninth grade. Math experts such as Stanford Professor of Mathematics Jim Milgram and Ze’ev Wurman, a former member of the US Department of Education, have strongly criticized that change, arguing that it will lock many students out of success in postsecondary education.
It looks like the new ACT data backs Milgram and Wurman up.
Table 3.2 in the Kentucky ACT Profile Report shows how different patterns of math course participation result in highly variable rates of college readiness in the Bluegrass State. ACT determines college readiness in math with its Mathematics Benchmark Score. That score is determined by actual surveys of colleges and shows a student has a 75 percent chance of passing a credit-bearing freshman algebra course with at least a “C” grade.
I used the data in Table 3.2 to assemble this table, which includes all listed course taking patterns that explicitly identify Algebra 1 in the sequence.
These results provide dramatic evidence that students generally need to take a course sequence of at least five math courses, starting with Algebra 1, if they are to have something close to a 50-50 chance of surviving a college algebra course.
However, in most Kentucky school systems it isn’t possible to complete five math courses during the normal four-year high school experience. Thus, to complete either of the five-course sequences in the table above, students have to take Algebra 1 in the eighth grade.
This is really no secret, and it isn’t news. Experts like Milgram and Wurman have understood these facts of life for some time. Now, real data from the latest ACT results show they are still right – and the Common Core State Standards for math need to be changed.
By the way, I quickly checked the new ACT Profile Reports for Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin (get them here) and the patterns shown in the table above are generally repeated in those states, as well. Odds of doing acceptable work in college algebra go up dramatically when students take the five-course sequences in the table above. This isn’t just a Kentucky issue.