Math in the classroom ~ Photo by Charles Pieters

Photo by Charles Pieters

During years of focusing on how many 8th graders take Algebra I, Californians have often overlooked a measure of student performance that is crucial to students’ long-term success in math and science—their mastery of the state’s 7th grade math standards.

A new EdSource issue brief, California’s Math Pipeline: The Grade 7 Pivot Point, documents the many ways that students’ understanding of 7th grade math concepts is “both a benchmark indicator of the quality of students’ educational experiences in math thus far and a meaningful predictor of their future success in the subject.”

Students who successfully master these concepts—whether in 7th grade or earlier—are best positioned to take on the rigors of California’s full Algebra I, college-preparatory math course.

But as EdSource’s February 2011 study of Algebra I placement in California revealed, 7th graders who don’t score at the highest levels on the California Standards Test in math are less likely to do well in Algebra I the next year. In particular, 7th graders who scored at the very lowest levels in math very often have not mastered similar content by the end of 8th grade.

Further, a 2009 report by HumRRO shows that low-performing 7th graders are less likely to pass the math section of the California High School Exit Exam by the end of high school, even though it largely tests the same 7th grade math concepts.

EdSource’s new brief is part of a series on California’s math pipeline that looks at key benchmarks of how students are doing in math today and in the past, and how the picture compares for students from different ethnic backgrounds. And the data repeatedly come back to the importance of a strong foundation in math by the end of 7th grade—an accomplishment that begins in the elementary grades and even earlier. (EdSource developed the series in conjunction with CSLNet, with funding from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation.)

The issue of middle grades math is getting attention throughout the state as educators begin the task of implementing the Common Core State Standards, and EdSource is participating in two seminars on the subject. The first is at the Riverside County Office of Education on Monday, September 12. The second is a webinar hosted by SchoolsMovingUp on September 14.

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  1. Richard 5 years ago5 years ago

    John S is absolutely correct. Difficulty with Algebra stems from poor arithmetic and poor problem solving skills. Strengthen the math education in K-7 and they should be able to do Algebra 1 in 8th grade easily. I thought 7th grade algebra was the gold standard for the top 10%, I hope that doesn't get affected. While the average student may not need to take Algebra 1 in middle school, the top students absolutely do! Otherwise, we … Read More

    John S is absolutely correct. Difficulty with Algebra stems from poor arithmetic and poor problem solving skills. Strengthen the math education in K-7 and they should be able to do Algebra 1 in 8th grade easily. I thought 7th grade algebra was the gold standard for the top 10%, I hope that doesn’t get affected. While the average student may not need to take Algebra 1 in middle school, the top students absolutely do!

    Otherwise, we should simply accept that a vast majority of our students will probably never really have a chance at careers in STEM related fields. That might be okay too, but this will probably continue the stratification of our society because these are the best paid, most exciting jobs of the future. I also worry about the lack of future top math teachers that will be teaching the next generation of students.

  2. John S 8 years ago8 years ago

    Seventh grade is far too late in the process. By then far too many students have bought into the "I'm just no good at math" mythology so prevalent in the US. All of the fifth and sixth graders in Singapore are solving the same math problems that NAEP deems advanced for US eighth graders. In Singapore and most other countries with high average levels of math achievement 90% of their entering fourth graders know … Read More

    Seventh grade is far too late in the process. By then far too many students have bought into the “I’m just no good at math” mythology so prevalent in the US. All of the fifth and sixth graders in Singapore are solving the same math problems that NAEP deems advanced for US eighth graders. In Singapore and most other countries with high average levels of math achievement 90% of their entering fourth graders know their multiplication tables from memory in the US it’s about 18%. Fix the first four grades in math and you win. By waiting until seventh grade you condemn millions to innumeracy.