The 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress Long Term Trend (NAEP LTT) assessment results came out today, and there are some interesting data pertaining to the Common Core State Standards debate regarding the moving of algebra to grade 9 from grade 8.

Here are two extracts from this brand-new report (which is on line here):

Figure 33 in the new NAEP LTT Report Card shows that there has been a steady increase recently in the proportion of 13-year olds in the United States who have taken algebra. The percentage more than doubled since 1986, the first year the NAEP LTT assessment captured this information. As of 2012, fully one third of this age group took algebra.

Now, Table A-2 shows the grade-by-grade breakdown of the age 13 group in the NAEP LTT Mathematics sample. Note that virtually all of them were in the 8th grade or lower.

Thus, the increase in age 13 algebra takers shown in Figure 33 is definitely attributable to eighth grade, or even lower grade, participation.

Given the backdrop of this very worthwhile trend, along comes the CCSS. Common Core shifts algebra to the ninth grade for all.

This change also insures that algebra won’t be tested until the ninth grade because of “Due Notice” issues that impact testing (you cannot test it if teachers and students don’t get due notice in the standards about what is fair game at each grade level).

Thus, the CCSS shift will very likely erase the progress shown in Figure 33 in eighth grade algebra taking.

Even if a local school decides to offer algebra in the eighth grade, the subject won’t be tested until the end of the ninth grade. The year delay in testing will probably adversely impact scores for students who take algebra in the eighth grade. That will create pressures for such schools to shift all algebra courses to the ninth grade, anyway.

Here’s more interesting information.

**• Since 1990, when Age 13 algebra participation hit its lowest level in Figure 33, the Age 13 NAEP LTT mathematics scale score increased from 270 to 285, a 15-point rise. **

• In the same time interval, Age 9 math scores only rose from 230 to 244, a 14 point rise.

**• Age 17 math scores changed in the same time interval from 305 to 306, which isn’t even a statistically significant difference.**

Could the rather dramatic rise in eight grade algebra participation account for the leading increase for these middle-school-age students on NAEP LTT Mathematics? You cannot establish such cause-effect relationships with the NAEP, but the results are not inconsistent with such a possibility, either.

There is one other unsatisfactory trend in Table A-2. Note that the percentage of 13-year olds in the seventh grade rose dramatically over the years while it decreased by a similar amount in the eighth grade. This could indicate notably more students are being held back in the lower grades today.

Assuming the increase indicates more students are being held back in school, this will significantly drive up total education costs for these students, if they survive in school to graduation. At worst, such students often become high school dropouts.

While NAEP LTT does not provide any state-level scores, the trends are still important, so I’ll be spending more time with this report in future blogs.

Stay tuned.

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