March 09, 2009

Math- Free Advice

I’m offering FREE advice here, so its your decision whether you take it or not.

It is mandated in most public schools that 8th graders take Algebra I with 9th graders now taking Geometry.

I am firmly against any such mandate as Math comes with a neurological maturity. I have found that MOST children are NOT ready for Algebra I in 8th grade, let alone Geometry in 9th grade.

But that is my personal opinion.

The advice I am offering? If your child is not pulling a solid “A” in their TEST GRADES at BEST a HIGH 'B', not their grade for the course, but TEST GRADES, in 8th grade, make them retake it in 9th grade. Have them take Honors Algebra I, but have them retake it.

I am seeing over and over again when I tutor, Geometry, Algebra II, and Trig students with piss poor Algebra skills.

Algebra is the basis for all high school and college math. If you truly do not understand the basic manipulation, if you don’t completely grasp the fundamentals, you are doomed to struggle for the rest of your math career.


What I am finding is that 8th grade math grades include extra credit, credit for doing homework, credit for crap done in class…. All rolled into their test grades. It is possible for a C student to pull a B. It is possible for a low to mediocre B student to pull an A.

Folks… if you have a kid who has an 85 test score average… that means more than likely, there are some C test grades in there mixed with some A’s. Very rarely do you have a child that scores 85 on everything.

A ‘C’ in Algebra means they really didn’t grasp the concept. If a kids scores a ‘C’ on a test, they might as well have failed it.

… and it is going to come back to haunt them.

I am making my eldest retake Algebra next year. Right now, he may have an A (I need to check) but the first term he was pulling B’s with F test grades mixed with A’s. There were myriad reasons, none of which I will ever get into here, but whether it was an outside influence or his own personal doing, every grade lower than a ‘B’ tells me he has a hole in his math knowledge.

You cannot have that in higher math. Those holes from the first couple terms are going to KILL HIM in Alegbra II and Trig. And the thing is, I don’t know where those holes are exactly.

I would much rather him take Algebra AGAIN, as a freshman, have it rebuild his confidence and hammer home the skills… even if its review, so he’ll be ready for higher math.

He gets it. His math teacher, not a believer in Algebra I mandates for 8th graders either, gets it, and we’re all on the same page.

Listen to me… if their TEST SCORE AVERAGE in Algebra I is not a solid A, a HIGH B at the lowest, seriously seriously consider their retaking Algebra. Remember, not their GRADE IN THE CLASS, but their TEST SCORE AVERAGE. Don’t let the fluff they add fool you… it may make the kid motivated to do his homework, but it does not truly reflect what they know.


Do with the information as you may… I have too many data points that support me.

Posted by Boudicca at March 9, 2009 09:54 PM

I've only had one math teacher where I had full comprehension of the subject, it was my pre-algebra class in 10th grade (skipped out of math in 9th). That teacher was teacher of the year for that year as well. Everything I learned in that class was again covered in Algebra I (new teacher) so I never paid attention, never had any trouble, and never learned anything new. To make it more fun, halfway through the year I went from a Block schedule school (1 years worth in 1 semester) to a regular school, (1 semester in 1 semester) and the place where we ended by the end of their school year was where I was at before I had left (Algebra I at the other school is a full year, so it's like getting 2 years in 1). The following year, I had geometry. I would have failed that class except that the teacher gave us the odd problems and didn't insist that we show our work, and the tests were multiple choice (he wasn't a math teacher) The final however, was not multiple choice. He made it an open book final, so that we could look at our notes for examples. I literally taught myself geometry as I was taking the final. Afterwards I couldn't recall anything I taught myself, but I got a 95%.

Algebra II I barely passed. Not even sure how I did it.

Posted by: Andrew Ravencroft at March 10, 2009 12:15 AM

Thank you, Bou!!! I heartily concur!

Posted by: PeggyU at March 10, 2009 01:05 AM

I thought this post would have advice that was math-free!

Posted by: Amy at March 10, 2009 05:52 AM

as someone student teaching in mathe for algebras i and ii in the senior high school, i feel confident saying there are plenty of NINTH and TENTH graders who struggle with the mathe concepts in algebra i. the idea that all EIGHTH graders take it is ridiculous. save elementary / middle school to teach them BASIC math. i'm getting tired of reteaching fraction addition and regular multiplication at this level.

.. and thanks for letting me rant a little. great advice for parents, bou!

Posted by: amelie at March 10, 2009 07:33 AM

Agreed. It is pointless to push kids into higher math until they have a firm grasp of basic algebra. Yet our schools are designed to push kids on ahead without a thought as to if they're ready to move on. The weak are left behind, seldom able to get the extra help they need, unless they're special ed. No wonder teens get so sick of school.

Posted by: diamond dave at March 10, 2009 09:15 AM


Posted by: Teresa at March 10, 2009 09:21 AM

I don't know about all this. I had Algebra I & II & Geometry in 7th grade, Trig in 8th grade, Advanced Algebra in 9th grade ... then started it all over again in High School. We were a special group of trouble makers ... International Geophysical Year ... Invest in our Best and Brighest Scientists ... Beat the Russians to the Moon ... back when school made sense.

Now my brother talks about public school teachers teaching to the bottom 20%tile with the little snowflakes being given every chance to "fix" their grades with extra credit and makeup work ... and none of them remember what they were supposed to have learned to use the next year.

He talks about this in Prerequisites or Why You are Expected to Learn the Material.

I especially like his write up on why College is not like High School.

Good words all.

Posted by: The Thomas at March 10, 2009 11:34 AM

Man, you just spoke the story of my Mathematical career. I'm currently failing multivariable calculus because I, too, have holes in my knowledge and don't really know where they are. My algebra has ALWAYS been spotty, and it has haunted me throughout my college career. Outside college, if I'm using math I'm concentrating on only a couple of techniques at a time, so I can specialize (hence, the holes don't show), but that doesn't cut it in class.

This will be the third math class I'll be repeating. Ugh.

Posted by: Militant Bibliophile at March 10, 2009 12:48 PM

Bibliophile: At least you have the sense and the perseverence to repeat what you didn't get down the first time! That is a pragmatic and mature approach to learning that, unfortunately, a lot of students won't take.

Posted by: PeggyU at March 10, 2009 03:01 PM

I just had to delurk on this post since I am living it. My daughter had an A-B average utnil she hit 8th grade this year and Algebra I. I didnt even take Algebra until 9th grade in NY. Luckily FL allows her the chance to take it again next year and she will be.

Posted by: Cindy at March 10, 2009 09:33 PM

Amelie- I'm amazed at the basic skills I have to go over. And I'm not trying to rag on the kids. Overall, I have pretty motivated kids or their parents wouldn't be wasting money and you've seen how I post that they go from D's to A's. But its NOT ME getting them to an A... its their work.

When I first started tutoring I would say, 'I just need to shine some light in the dark corners.' I just had no idea that light in the dark corners meant very basic Algebraic manipulation... pulling numbers across the equal sign changing signs, etc. Going from -2=x to 0=x+2.... that -2 to +2 was throwing my Algebra II students.

So I'm a bit angry at our system. Something is messed up somewhere and for it to be happening with SO MANY bright kids, at different schools, tells me its systematic.

And DD- yes, they push and kids never get it.

Thomas- You are evidently not average. The average kid is NOT ready for higher math at a young age and their basic skills really do suck. I'm amazed. But it is not helped by all the extra credit and fluff they are given to help their grades. It is masking their problems... I had a parent say to me, "But she made an "A!" in Alg I! How can she be failing Alg II?" I need to sit down with her and ask her, "What were her test scores?"

Militant Bibliphile- I'm impressed. I'm really impressed that you're still hacking at it... so the rest of this comment is for you, and Peggy can add her 2 cents as well as Amelie and VW, who all either teach or tutor math.

If you truly feel you have some holes you cannot figure out, I'd either 1) get a tutor so you don't fail again and they might be able to spot your weakness or 2) think about taking College Algebra either on-line or with a book, going through the problems, step by step.

Seriously... you may figure it out quickly and/or it may take practice.

I tell my students, "Why are you studying for math by doing your homework ONE TIME? Do you study for history that way?" People have no problems reading a history chapter over and over and over, but math, they do the homework once and then dust off their hands and move on. (I sense a whole new post coming out of this comment.)

Math takes practice, except its hands on practice. History... you read the chapter, talk about it in class, read it again, read it when bored and the teacher is droning, take notes on it, talk to a friend about it...

Get it?

Math isn't paid attention to in the same way. To study for math correctly, take notes, do your homework for section 1 on Monday. On Tuesday do your new homework and then some problems from Monday. On Wednesday do your wednesday homework, and then some problems from Tuesday and Monday.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Come Friday, homework is taking a long time, but Monday... you can do in your sleep. You KNOW that information. You've practiced it and it is in long term memory.

Before your test, do ALL your homework again. Pick out problems from each section, but do it. Bring it to the forefront of your short term memory as you recommit it to your long term.

You'd be amazed how this helps.

And seriously, hire a tutor if you can. He/She may be able to see what concept you missed.

Good luck!

Posted by: Bou at March 10, 2009 09:44 PM

MB- Oh and I wasn't implying you were not doing your homework or not studying properly... but my Junior year in college, I was taking Advanced Calculus and struggling and my Prof sat down and said, "How are you studying?" He went through this all with me. I made an A. And... I'd taken the class the semester before and made the ONLY F of my entire life. From an F to an A, doable with a different teacher AND by studying the way he told me to.

Posted by: Bou at March 10, 2009 09:47 PM

Cindy- Our teacher in 8th grade said 1/2 the kids will retake it and 3/4 need to. She said they won't and they will struggle.

My son isn't even embarrassed. I was afraid he would be, but I keep telling him, "This will help your GPA in the long run AND, having a solid foundation means you can take Honors math the rest of your HS years and get the Honors credit."

He is thinking long term, which makes me happy.

Posted by: Bou at March 10, 2009 09:51 PM

Bou, check out my brother's comments at the links I referenced. He is really big on getting his students to learn and after reading his comments you will understand why.

Regarding the math I took. Yes, both my brother and I (as well as many other students in our classes) received special instruction as a result of the National Defense Education Act (hence the reference to the Intl Geo Year, et cetera). In fact my brother's class covered College Algebra in 6th grade, because they thought it was interesting. Thats probably the reason he ended up a Physicist.

Posted by: The Thomas at March 10, 2009 10:02 PM

Thomas- Sorry, I checked all the links after I commented. (Roses wrecked cake link is a riot too, btw.)

Holy crap. NEVER in my wildest dreams would I have thought of taking a class I did not have the prereq for, AND, to top it off, typically in the course descriptions, it tells you WHY you need the prereq. For instance, Physics for Engineers tells you that you need Calc I and why.

Why would someone not adhere to that? It is setting yourself up for FAILURE.

Good Lord.

I like what he says about the difference in HS and college and he's spot on. I need to preach this to my son... in particular as he'll be taking the AP classes your brother spoke of. AP classes are still spoon feeding.

And I remember when I got to college, I dated a guy who was a college Senior in engineering and he said to me, "Bou, EVERYONE with you was in the top 10% of their high school class... you're average now, fighting your way to the top."

He nailed that one.

Posted by: Bou at March 10, 2009 10:22 PM

I pissed off my 7th grade math teacher so I wasn't put into Algebra in the 8th grade even though I should have been. Really pissed me off. I had to take 8th grade math which was really boring. I aced Algebra in the 9th grade. Had I started Algebra in the 8th grade, I would have been able to take Calculus as a senior.

Posted by: Denny at March 11, 2009 09:10 PM