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.