State Board gets authority to pare back 8th grade math standards

Gov. Jerry Brown evidently agrees that California’s math standards should align more closely with the national Common Core standards. On Thursday, he signed SB 1200, which will allow the State Board to weed out the dozens of California state Algebra standards that were inserted two years ago with the adoption of Common Core as part of an ongoing, unresolved debate over what students should learn in eighth grade.

Advocates of SB 1200, which the Department of Education drafted, argue that the amalgamation of eighth grade standards created confusion for teachers and for publishers, who would have to design unique materials for California for an unwieldy course combining pre-Algebra and Algebra I. Critics, who include former State Board of Education Executive Director John Mockler, charged that SB 1200 will result in discouraging most students from taking Algebra I in eighth grade. That’s because removing the California standards will leave Common Core pre-Algebra standards as the default course for eighth grade.

Brown didn’t comment; he only signed the bill. But State Board President Michael Kirst immediately put out a statement praising the enactment of the bill and denied the bill will lead to the elimination of Algebra I as an eighth grade option. “Placement of students in math courses, based on their readiness, is still a local decision and should remain as such,” Kirst said. “The decision of when a student is ready for higher mathematics must be based upon his/her classroom performance and not impersonal directives from Sacramento.”

Last year, about two-thirds of students had taken Algebra I by eighth grade. With only about half of them testing as proficient on the state Algebra I test, it’s clear that some had been pushed into Algebra before they were ready, in part because of a state testing policy that dings a school for students who take less than the Algebra I test in eighth grade. The question is how much the pendulum will swing when pre-Algebra becomes the sole  standards for eighth grade. Common Core proponents argue that many students will be better prepared for Algebra I in ninth grade, having taken Common Core’s more deliberate pace, stressing math literacy and logic.

Kirst and Bill Honig,a former state superintendent who chairs a commission overseeing the implementation of Common Core for the State Board, say a clear pathway for students ready for Algebra I in eighth grade will be delineated. Though not in the state standards per se, it will be in the curriculum frameworks, a detailed document providing guidance and examples of best practices for teachers that will be completed in the fall of 2013.

SB 1200 “marks a critical step forward in California’s efforts to implement the Common Core Standards and to ensure Algebra is accessible to every student,” Kirst said. For many students, it will likely happen in ninth grade.

The bill requires that the State Board complete the revision of the standards by the end of March.

(For previous coverage of this issue in EdSource Today, go here and here.)


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15 Responses to “State Board gets authority to pare back 8th grade math standards”

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  1. Gretchen on Oct 1, 2012 at 11:30 am10/1/2012 11:30 am

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    I believe the CCSS standards that were added to previous standards such as 7.EE.5 would be removed as they will most likely be considered redundant.

  2. Sara on Oct 1, 2012 at 10:35 am10/1/2012 10:35 am

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    Hi John,

    Do you know if SB 1200 might result in the removal of some of the 8th grade Common Core standards that California added to the 7th grade Common Core math standards?

    Here’s one example:
    7.EE.5. Use square root and cube root symbols to represent solutions to equations of the form x2 = p and x3 = p, where p is a positive rational number. Evaluate square roots of small perfect squares and cube roots of small perfect cubes. Know that √2 is irrational. (Common Core Standard 8EE-2)

    As a seventh grade teacher, I am hoping this will be the case, so we can have more time to go in depth on the 7th grade Common Core Standards.


    • John Fensterwald on Oct 1, 2012 at 11:36 am10/1/2012 11:36 am

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      Sara: I can’t predict what the Frameworks Committee will recommend and the Board will adopt next spring, but my read of SB 1200 is that the intent is to remove redundant standards, which I assume means removing the Common Core standards that were repeated in an earlier grade, such as the one you cite. They were inserted in 2010, at the insistence of the advocates of universal Algebra I in eighth grade to create an accelerated path to Algebra I.

  3. navigio on Sep 29, 2012 at 11:11 am09/29/2012 11:11 am

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    I’ll avoid the general issue for now, but I do think a couple things are interesting in this discussion.

    First that we assume that non-proficiency means not ready as opposed to failure of the system. This seems counter to how we interpret other tests. If we used CST for grade promotion, for example, would this not be the case. Of course we dont do that, but I find the difference interesting.

    Related to that, it seems kind of impossible to simply quote proficiency rates for a test that can be taken in multiple grades, ie when one is ready. By definition, it seems the proficiency rates would tend to optimize themselves if such a situation existed unrestricted. However, outside forces–eg pressure to take a test in a specific grade or others–would tend to cause proficiency rates to diverge from that optimized scenario. I dont think we understand how much impact each of those forces is playing. It seems we’d need to in order to understand these results accurately.. ? Imagine if we allowed advanced students to take a grade’s ELA CST a year early and separated their result from the rest of the population. This is essentially what we do with our Math test.

    Note also that API gets docked the later one takes a math test. I expect a school district might look at its options there and decide which number to optimize, API or proficiency rate and then set ‘policy’ that way. Perverse? Yes. Unheard of? Doubt it.

    I know of middle schools that dont even offer a 7th grade algebra testing option. Of course they are essentially minority schools. It seems odd to assume students really have some kind of choice when the curriculum/class offering is set up with that in mind. If, as Doug mentions, much of this ‘readiness’ falls along racial or income lines, then such a policy actually reinforces segregation as well.

  4. Cal on Sep 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm09/28/2012 7:36 pm

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    Why does everyone think this is a California problem? Does everyone really think that Algebra for 8th grade is disappearing?

    We currently have two testing options in 7th grade: algebra or general math. We have three testing options in 8th grade: algebra, geometry, or general math.

    What, exactly, is everyone thinking is going to change?

    “With only about half of them testing as proficient on the state Algebra I test, it’s clear that some had been pushed into Algebra before they were ready,”

    Actually, it’s clear that 40% of black 8th graders and 35% of Hispanics were completely unprepared to take algebra, scoring below basic or lower. The numbers of whites and Asians scoring in that range were far lower.

    That’s important, because the whole reason this moronic requirement came along was because people desperately wanted to pretend blacks and Hispanics weren’t taking algebra in 8th grade because their schools were racist, when in fact their schools made an appropriate decision to give them another year of general math.

  5. Ze'ev Wurman on Sep 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm09/28/2012 6:35 pm

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    I think you are confusing flexibility of interpretation that can be allowed in regulations, and flexibility in the legal system. When there is no explicit and direct statement in the law about something, the executive (CDE, USDE) can interpret it in any reasonable way. When there is an explicit and direct statement, its executive misinterpretations are regularly rejected in courts when challenged.

    Unfortunately, the fools in the legislature drafted a flawed but explicit bill in their rush to kill algebra in grade 8. And the supposedly wiser people pretend the flaws don’t exist.

  6. Doug McRae on Sep 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm09/28/2012 4:42 pm

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    John — I too would hope that the feds would be more flexible than Ze’ev’s literal (but accurate) interpretation of SB 1200 statutory language. But, while the feds have been flexible for a two-test solution, our CA Dept Educ and State Board of Education has not been — when the Algebra Grade 8 issue boiled over in July 2008, the two-pathway two-test solution was advocated by both Charles Munger [Chair of Math Subcommittee of the Curriculum Comm when they recommended and the State Board adopted both Algebra Readiness and full Algebra I textbooks for Grade 8 in late 2007] and me at the State Board meeting, but neither the Dept Educ staff nor the State Board at the time was willing to budge from their respective corners — CDE staff wanting only a pre-algebra or algebra lite test for all 8th graders, SBE wanting only a full algebra test for all 8th graders, based on the false information that the feds required a one-test solution. We could wait for the cows to come in if we rely on people recognizing what is or is not in the best interest of students, at least on this issue.

  7. Ze'ev Wurman on Sep 28, 2012 at 3:30 pm09/28/2012 3:30 pm

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    Testing algebra takers on pre-algebra is only half of the problem. What, precisely, would be the State’s response when somebody will argue in court that California can’t offer a choice of Algebra 1, Algebra 2, or Geometry to a freshman or junior in high school, based on their course-taking?

    The only logical choice is, in my mind: “Your Honor. Clearly this is a badly written law. Nobody in his right mind would expect all children in grades K to 12 to take identical courses in identical grades, or test children on courses which they have not taken.”

    To which the judge should probably answer: “One would like to think so. Yet clearly the legislature, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the President of the State Board of Education, and the Governor of the State of California do think so. Perhaps it does say something about the state of their minds, but I have no choice but to defer to their presumed wisdom when I rule that the State of California has to administer only a test based on a single set of standards at any grade level.”


    • John Fensterwald on Sep 28, 2012 at 3:59 pm09/28/2012 3:59 pm

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      Ze’ev: I would hope that, in reauthorizing ESEA, Congress and the Administration (whoever it is) would recognize it is not in anyone’s interest to deter those ready to take Algebra in eighth or seventh grade by imposing a single test per grade requirement. As Doug McRae has pointed out, the feds allowed an exception to North Carolina, I believe, for a two-test solution.
      I don’t see that the judge would issue the ruling as you have laid out, based on the Legislature’s decision to have California’s standards conform to the national Common Core. Looking ahead, if promoters of blended and online education are correct, and a decade from now, learning will be a continuum, with performance, not seat time or grade configurations, the new measure, this debate will become moot.

  8. el on Sep 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm09/28/2012 2:06 pm

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    If there’s only one standard per grade level, and all the kids have to be tested based on their official grade level, it’s hard for me to understand how 8th graders taking algebra would take the algebra test. Or would we just test them at pre-algebra concepts?


    • John Fensterwald on Sep 28, 2012 at 3:20 pm09/28/2012 3:20 pm

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      el: One line of thinking is that computer adaptive test for pre-Algebra would capture the skills of the students who are taking Algebra I. I’ll leave that issue to the experts to debate. Until we see a Smarter-Balanced computer adaptive test, it remains a black box to me.

      • el on Oct 1, 2012 at 10:02 am10/1/2012 10:02 am

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        Oh, the computer-adaptive tests that we’ll administer with the bandwidth and the electricity and the computers we don’t have? Sweet. :-)

        • tmare on Oct 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm10/1/2012 7:25 pm

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          Exactly, at my school we would have to start testing on the first day of school in order to get all 1300 students through the testing in many subjects on the 40 ten year old computers we have, especially since they never all seem to work at the same time. So I guess “if they build the test, the computers will come”. Agreed, that WOULD be sweet. I’m sure California has tons of money laying around to update and provide new computers, it’s not like the state is near bankrupt.

  9. Ze'ev Wurman on Sep 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm09/28/2012 12:12 pm

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    SB 1200 makes EdCode 60605.11 to read (my upper-casing)


    (3) On or before March 30, 2013, the Superintendent SHALL
    recommend modifications to the mathematics standards to the state
    board, and the state board, by that date, shall adopt, reject, or
    modify those recommendations.
    (b) The modifications to the common core academic content
    standards in mathematics that the Superintendent recommends to the
    state board and that the state board approves SHALL ENSURE ALL OF THE FOLLOWING:

    (3) ONE SET OF STANDARDS is adopted at each grade level.

    For all their vague promises, neither Kirst nor Honig explain how the framework will override a clear statement of the law that demands (“shall”) one set of standards at every K-12 grade. And even if the CDE lawyers will allow the framework to allow multiple standards, how will the court system allow such dual (or multiple) offerings of state assessments in a direct contravention to the law, when someone will sue. As CTA surely will.

    Good intentions are not enough. The Whole Language disaster that cost California students so dearly did not happen because of Honig’s bad intentions.

  10. Eric Premack on Sep 28, 2012 at 11:06 am09/28/2012 11:06 am

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    Yet another reason why standards should be flexible rather than “one size fits all” –and adopted primarily at the local, rather than state and federal level.

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