No Clear Path to Mathematics Learning in California
New research by Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd examines math course-taking patterns from middle to high school.
New research examining the course-taking patterns of some 24,000 students in 24 California unified school districts finds that students already doing well in mathematics in the 7th grade are more likely to take advanced math courses in high school and achieve proficiency on the California Standards Test (CST) in algebra. But for the many students who struggle with math in grade 7, there is no clear path to learning and achievement in this critical content area.
Conducted by a team of researchers at WestEd and SRI International and released today by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, the research makes clear that doing well in grade 7 mathematics is predictive of enrollment in more advanced math classes in high school. More than half (56%) of students earning “B” or above in 7th grade math enrolled in geometry in 9th grade. Conversely just 16 percent of students scoring “C” or “D” enrolled in geometry in 9th grade" The trend holds true through more advanced high school courses.
Additionally, the majority of students who achieve proficiency on the CST in algebra 1 are those who already have strong math skills and are on an “accelerated math track.” (Algebra in grade 8, geometry in grade 9, and algebra 2 in grade 10.) Of the 34 percent of students who achieve proficiency on the algebra 1 CST, almost three quarters of them were on this accelerated track.
“These results provide powerful evidence that school systems are struggling to successfully teach, or re-teach, mathematics to students who are not already performing well in math by the time they reach middle school,” says Neal Finkelstein, Senior Research Scientist at WestEd and lead researcher on this study. “The data make it very clear that the struggle to successfully teach math starts before and continues after the middle grades.”
For those students not on an accelerated track, the path to successful learning in mathematics is not clear. The study analyzed student course-taking patterns in math from grade 7 through high school and identified approximately 2,000 different math course patterns. Among students not on the accelerated math track, the study found far more complex course sequences. And these students commonly repeated math courses yet rarely attained proficiency on the CST for the course they were being asked to repeat. For students who repeated algebra 1 in grade 9, the grade-9 algebra 1 CST proficiency rate was 21 percent. Among students who repeated algebra 1 in grade 10, the grade-10 algebra 1 CST proficiency rate was just 9 percent.
College Bound in Middle School and High School? How Math Course Sequences Matter examines student preparation in mathematics and science in California. The study reviewed a comprehensive set of grade-7 to grade 12 transcript data for a group of 24,279 students from 24 school districts in California deemed representative of the state in general. The dataset used in this study was compiled in cooperation with the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (Cal-PASS). The study also included follow-up conversations with three school districts in California whose data were analyzed collectively as part of the state sample, but were also analyzed for the individual district. The research was commissioned by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd and conducted by at team of researchers at WestEd and SRI International. The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and the Noyce Foundation provided funding for the research.
The study, including an executive summary and listing of recommendations for educators and policymakers can be found at www.cftl.org.
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