Our state has now mandated that Algebra 1 be taken in eighth grade. What are the benefits and disadvantages of taking this class as an eighth-grader rather than as a freshman? How is my child, who is no math whiz, likely to be affected? -- Eager to Know


Algebra has been called the gateway to learning higher math. If it is not taken in eighth grade, most students will not be able to take calculus their senior year in high school. Also, they might not have sufficient math courses to take some AP science classes. Furthermore, many selective colleges do expect applicants to have taken calculus in high school.

Educators have differences of opinion on whether eighth-graders should take algebra. On one hand, there are those who say that students who are ready should take algebra. This generally boils down to the students who have successfully passed a pre-algebra course.

Other educators endorse students waiting until ninth grade before taking algebra. This group believes that algebra is such an important course that it should not be rushed through in elementary or middle school, where many of the math teachers do not have sufficient training in teaching the subject. They also point out that if there are any concepts that are not mastered in algebra, these concepts will trip students up in later math courses. Another argument is that not all eighth-graders are ready to move from concrete arithmetic to symbolic algebra -- especially those who can't handle basic arithmetic well.

Enrollment in eighth grade algebra is definitely on the rise. There is some good news for lower-achieving students in algebra. Their numbers grew in advanced math courses. And these students showed higher achievement