Should Students Take Algebra in Eighth Grade

Question: My daughter took algebra in middle school. She found it to be quite difficult. However, this will let her take calculus as a senior in high school. Was this a wise decision? -- Questioning

Answer: The consensus is that taking algebra in eighth grade helps some students and hurts others. It definitely depends on the student and somewhat on the content of the course. For a while, the trend was toward having students, even all students, take algebra in eighth grade in some states and school districts. This backfired as more and more students did poorly or even flunked the course. This so turned them off that they tended to avoid math classes in high school, when possible.

The popular theory, especially held by politicians, was that if students took algebra in eighth grade, they would be able to take more advanced math classes in high school and be better prepared for jobs in our more tech-oriented world.

Many researchers do not and did not agree with this view. They held that eighth-graders had not reached the developmental stage when they could handle abstract reasoning concepts. They thought that it was better for students to wait to take algebra. This argument persists today and has not been resolved. Plus, there is also the factor of preparation for algebra. Some schools begin introducing algebraic concepts in the early grades, making it easier for students to handle earlier.

The other factor involved in taking algebra early is the difficulty of the course. This can vary enormously between schools. It is believed that those algebra classes following Common Core standards are more difficult.

When it comes down to the best decision about when to take algebra, it really needs to be decided on an individual basis. Children who have excelled in previous math classes and have passed an algebra-readiness class are probably ready to take algebra in eighth grade, especially if they are organized and mature students.