Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata is touting the efforts that have increased Algebra I enrollment in middle schools.
During a press conference last week, Tata pointed to how 7,232 middle school students took Algebra I in the 2011-12 school year, up 44 percent from 5,027 students the prior year. At the same time, he pointed to how Wake's passing rate on the Algebra I EOC exam (including the scores of high school students) rose 1.1 percentage points to 86.1 percent.
"That’s good news all around," Tata said. "We added 2,000 students. We used the predictive tool (EVAAS) and we increased proficiency. My hat is hat off to our algebra teachers and to our middle and high school principals who really made this a focused effort going forward.”
Wake saw the passing rate increase in all the EOC exams and nearly all the math and reading EOG exams at each grade level. The one exception was in seventh-grade math, where the proficiency rate dropped 0.2 percentage points.
Tata attributed the drop in seventh-grade math to middle schools using EVAAS to place more students in pre-algebra to get them ready to take Algebra I in eighth grade.
Tata said it's been an important effort because "all the research nationally shows that if you make a C or better in algebra by the eighth grade, your chances of going to college increase exponentially."
There's been a lot of national debate lately about whether algebra is important.
In a July 28 op-ed piece in The New York Times, Andrew Hacker, a social science professor at Queens College in New York, argues that students shouldn't be required to take algebra. He says algebra is so hard that it's causing many students to drop out of school because they can't pass the subject.
Hacker proposes replacing algebra with a new class he calls "citizen statistics" that "would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives." An example he cites is teaching students how the Consumer Price Index is calculated.
Hacker's op-ed piece has produced more than 475 comments and articles in other publications.
On July 30, The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog reposted an article by Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, that says algebra is necessary. Willingham writes that it's misleading to blame math as the main culprit for America's dropout rate.
Willingham argues that mathematics learned in school makes students better able to learn new quantitative skills.