The Importance of Algebra I in 8th Grade

Access to Algebra I in 8thgrade is a critical course for students interested in going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. A recent US Department of Education data storylooks at which students have access to 8thgrade Algebra I, where it is offered, and who takes it.

Why 8thGrade Algebra I is Important

Algebra I is considered a gatekeeper course—students need to complete it to have access to higher level math and science courses. For example, students who take Algebra I in the 8thgrade can then take Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus during their high school years. Not taking it until the 9thgrade moves calculus off the schedule in high school. Similar limits happen in getting the prerequisites for higher level science courses students need to complete in order to major in STEM fields in college. Currently, only 24% of public school students take Algebra I in the 8thgrade.

Access to 8thGrade Algebra I

Based on US Department of Education data, the availability of 8thgrade Algebra I varies widely. Only 59% of schools across the country offer Algebra I in the 8thgrade; however, these schools serve approximately 80% of all public school students. Suburban schools are the most likely to offer 8thgrade Algebra I, with 86% of students in those districts able to do so. About 75% of students in schools grouped as urban, rural, or town have access Algebra I in the 8thgrade.

Enrollment, however, lags far behind access. Overall, 24% of 8thgraders take Algebra I. Asian students are most likely to take 8thgrade Algebra I, with 34% doing so. White and multiracial students take it at 24% and 23% rates, respectively. Other minority groups enroll in 8thgrade Algebra I at a 12% to 14% rate. Female students (25%) are slightly more likely to take Algebra I in the 8thgrade than male students (22%).

Given that high school graduation in Illinois requires completion of Algebra I and Geometry, school districts might be tempted to push students into 8thgrade Algebra I in order to help them successfully complete it in high school. However, research indicatesthat while pushing students who are underprepared to take Algebra I in the 8thgrade does result in more of them passing Algebra I in high school, those students pass with lower scores than those who started the course later and they are also less likely to pass high school geometry.

What PTAs Can Do

One part of the data story includes an interactive map allowing you to zoom in on Illinois and see the percentage of schools in each district that offer 8thgrade Algebra I. For Chicago Public Schools, only 49% of schools did so. A significant portion of downstate districts do not offer it at all.

If your school district does not currently offer every student access to 8thgrade Algebra I, your PTA can advocate for those students. Every PTA should also ask about what your school district is doing to ensure that every student who has access to 8thgrade Algebra I is prepared to do so and what is being done to close any achievement gaps for students of color, of low-socio-economic status, or other groups underrepresented in the district’s enrollment in 8thgrade Algebra I.