National Center for Education Statistics report: Algebra I means different things in different schools

12 Mar

Moi wrote in Study: Early mastery of fractions is a predictor of math success:

Math is important for a number of reasons.

Michigan State University’s Office of Supportive Services succinctly states why math is important:

Why is math important?

All four year Universities have a math requirement

Math improves your skills:

  • Critical Thinking Skills

  • Deductive Logic and Reasoning Skills

  • Problem Solving Skills

A good knowledge of math and statistics can expand your career options

Physical Sciences – Chemistry, Engineering, Physics

Life and Health Sciences – Biology, Psychology, Pharmacy, Nursing, Optometry

Social Sciences – Anthropology, Communications, Economics, Linquistics, Education, Geography

Technical Sciences – Computer Science, Networking, Software Development

Business and Commerce

Actuarial Sciences


Perhaps the biggest math challenge is how to teach math.

Sarah D. Sparks reports in the Education Week article, Algebra, Geometry Classes Vary in Rigor, Says Study:

The drive to get every student to take so-called college gateway courses has succeeded, a new federal study finds, but students taking Algebra I and Geometry classes are getting considerably less substance than their course titles would suggest.

Nearly all of the Class of 2005 graduated having taken Algebra I, according to the latest iteration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s high school transcript studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, released this morning by the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet if their course materials are any indication, fewer than one in four of those students studied the kind of challenging topics needed to prepare them for college-level mathematics.

During the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics, NCES researchers also collected course transcript data from a representative sample of 17,800 students who graduated with a regular or honors diploma that year. They also analyzed 120 Algebra I, Geometry, and integrated math textbooks used at the 550 public schools those students attended.

Education watchers hoping to close persistent achievement gaps among students of different racial and ethnic groups long have pushed for all students to take “college-ready” class schedules, including at least four years of high school math, including Algebra I and II, Geometry, and Calculus. Here, at least, the transcript study shows this push has paid off: Graduates in 2005 earned on average 3.8 credits in math, significantly more than the average of 3.2 credits earned by graduates in 1990. Moreover, from 1990 to 2005, black graduates closed a six-percentage-point gap with white graduates in the percentages of students earning at least three math credits, including in algebra and geometry.

What’s Covered in Algebra I?

While nearly all 2005 high school graduates had taken a course called Algebra I at some point, the content of those classes varied tremendously, according to a new analysis by the National Center on Education Statistics. The chart breaks down the types of topics actually covered in Algebra I courses that researchers classified as beginner-, intermediate-, and rigorous-level classes.

The study found that, on average, two thirds of Algebra I and Geometry courses covered core content topics in each of those subjects, while the other third covered topics in other math areas. Researchers also gauged the rigor of classes based on the topics and questions covered in each book. A course categorized by researchers as beginner-level algebra had more than 60 percent of its material on elementary and middle school math topics such as basic arithmetic and pre-algebra problems such as basic equations. By contrast, a rigorous Algebra I course includes more than 60 percent of material on advanced topics such as functions and advanced number theory, as well as other higher-level math subjects such as geometry, trigonometry, and precalculus.

We found that there is very little truth-in-labeling for high school Algebra I and Geometry courses,” said Sean P. “Jack” Buckley, the NCES commissioner, in a statement on the study.

What’s Covered in Algebra I?

While nearly all 2005 high school graduates had taken a course called Algebra I at some point, the content of those classes varied tremendously, according to a new analysis by the National Center on Education Statistics. The chart breaks down the types of topics actually covered in Algebra I courses that researchers classified as beginner-, intermediate-, and rigorous-level classes.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, High School Transcript


 Algebra I and Geometry Curricula: Results from the 2005 High School Transcript Mathematics Curriculum Study
Description: The Mathematics Curriculum Study explores the relationship between student coursetaking and achievement by examining the content and challenge of two mathematics courses taught in the nation’s public high schools—algebra I and geometry. Conducted in conjunction with the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) High School Transcript Study (HSTS), the study uses textbooks as an indirect measure of what was taught in classrooms, but not how it was taught (i.e., classroom instruction). The study uses curriculum topics to describe the content of the mathematics courses and course levels to denote the content and complexity of the courses. The results are based on analyses of the curriculum topics and course levels developed from the textbook information, coursetaking data from the 2005 NAEP HSTS, and performance data from the twelfth-grade 2005 NAEP mathematics assessment.Highlights of the study findings show that about 65 percent of the material covered in high school graduates’ algebra I was devoted to algebra topics, while about 66 percent of the material covered in graduates’ geometry courses focused on geometry topics. School course titles often overstated course content and challenge. Approximately 73 percent of graduates in “honors” algebra I classes received a curriculum ranked as an intermediate algebra I course, while 62 percent of graduates who took a geometry course labeled “honors” by their school received a curriculum ranked as intermediate geometry. Graduates who took rigorous algebra I and geometry courses scored higher on NAEP than graduates who took beginner or intermediate courses.
Online Availability:

PDF FileNeed Help Viewing PDF files?

Cover Date: March 2013
Web Release: March 12, 2013
Print Release: March 12, 2013
Publication #: NCES 2013451
General Ordering Information


Authors: NCES
Type of Product: Statistical Analysis Report
Survey/Program Areas: High School Transcript Studies (HST)
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
Questions: For questions about the content of this Statistical Analysis Report, please contact:
Janis Brown.

Mary Niederberger of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes in the article, Formula written for math success:

Mastery of fractions and early division is a predictor of students’ later success with algebra and other higher-level mathematics, based on a study done by a team of researchers led by a Carnegie Mellon University professor.

That means more effective teaching of the concepts is needed to improve math scores among U.S. high school students, which have remained stagnant for more than 30 years….

The study said a likely reason for U.S. students’ weakness in fractions and division could be linked to their teachers’ “lack of a firm conceptual understanding” of the concepts, citing several other studies in which many American teachers were unable to explain the reasons behind mathematical solutions, while most teachers in Japan and China were able to offer two or three explanations.

A huge part of the math equation is attracting talented math majors and providing them with the training to teach math.


Study: Gender behavior differences lead to higher grades for girls

Girls and math phobia                                                         

University of Missouri study: Counting ability predicts future math ability of preschoolers                                            

Is an individualized program more effective in math learning?

Study: Elementary school teachers have an impact on girls math learning                                                                 

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