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.

PTA Membership Tips for November

Several months into the school year, your PTA is probably not attracting as many new members as it was during the start of the school year. Now is a great time to assess how your membership recruitment has gone so far and plan to build your PTA membership. Here are some tips to help.

  • You know who your PTA members are so far. Look at your membership and note who in your school community isn’t a PTA member? Is it teachers or staff? Are there any characteristics that the families not joining your PTA share? If so, what can you do to reach out to those families and make them feel welcome? What barriers might your PTA be putting up that discourages them from joining? Use PTA’s Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit to reach out to those families.
  • Use an Illinois PTA ready-to-use membership program to get more people interested in joining your PTA. Build a Super Fan campaign around upcoming sports seasons or a Give the Gift of Membership campaign for the holiday season.
  • Sign up for National PTA’s Local Leader Kit so you can receive the DIY Kit for Membership Growth for free. The DIY kit will walk you through how to target potential PTA members and build a membership pitch to share the value of PTA with them.
  • Take advantage of the power of MemberHub. PTA members aren’t the only people who you can sign up on MemberHub. If you have non-members joining MemberHub and using it as a communication tool with everyone, those non-members will see more of all the great things your PTA is doing. And if you are offering PTA memberships through MemberHub, you have an easy way to get them to join.

Photo courtesy Nick Youngson and Alpha Stock Imagesunder Creative Commons License.

5 Things to Know About the New Illinois School Report Card

Illinois’s school report cardwas released on October 31st, and there have been several changes this year due to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Here are five things families need to know about this year’s report card.

  1. There’s a new school rating system.Schools are now classified in one of four designations:
    • Exemplary:Schools performing in the top 10% statewide with no underperforming student groups (e.g., white students, low-income students, special needs students).
    • Commendable:Schools that have no underperforming student groups, performance is not in the top 10% statewide, and for high schools, the graduation rate is above 67%.
    • Underperforming:Schools where one or more student groups is performing below the level of the “all students” group in the lowest performing 5% of schools. This definition of underperforming student groups applies to the two designations above.
    • Lowest-Performing:Schools in the lowest-performing 5% of schools statewide and any high school with a graduation rate of 67% or less.
  1. Schools are rated on more than test scores.Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), how a school was performing was based only on how students performed on statewide tests. Under Illinois’s ESSA plan, schools are evaluated on several measures, including academic growth, proficiency, school climate survey results, high school graduation, and chronic absenteeism.

 

  1. The focus is now on student growth, not proficiency.NCLB’s focus was only on proficiency—did a student meet a specific score on the statewide test—as a means of measuring a school’s success. That focus did not take into account where students were at the beginning of a school year. Under Illinois’s ESSA plan, student growth—how much a student improves over the course of the year—is one measure of how a school is performing. That means that a school is doing well when a student shows more than one year of academic growth over the course of the year even if they still do not meet the standards for their grade. This focus on growth will encourage schools to support all students and close achievement gaps.

 

  1. School funding is being reported.With Illinois’s new school funding formula, we have a way of estimating what it costs to educate a student in every Illinois school district—its Adequacy Target. The school report card now shows where each school district stands on funding compared to its Adequacy Target on the first page of the report card, as well as which funding tier (1 through 4) the district is in for the new funding formula. Next year’s report card will also include how much school districts are spending at each school.

 

  1. The lowest performing schools get more support.Under NCLB, schools that were not making Adequate Yearly Progress often had funding cut. Under Illinois’s ESSA plan, those schools that are Underperforming or Lowest-Performing get additional funding and supports to help them improve. Those schools will also partner with higher performing schools to help institute best practices for student success. The system to implement these supports is known as IL-EMPOWER.

These changes in the report card reflect many Illinois PTA and National PTA legislative priorities. From moving beyond a simple test score to measure school success, to focusing on student growth, to adequately and equitably funding education, PTA advocacy has helped to continue the progress being made towards providing every child a quality education. You can help lend your voice to future PTA advocacy efforts by joining the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network.

 

Acute Flaccid Myelitis in U.S. Children

Families may have recently heard news stories about children suddenly developing weakness in their arms or legs. The condition, called Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) is extremely rare (the chances of having AFM is one in one million), but the number of cases has increased sharply in recent years (396 confirmed cases from August 2014 to September 2018). Here is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has to say about the condition.

Parents may be hearing about children in the United States who suddenly became weak in their arms or legs from a condition called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. This condition is not new, but the increase in cases we saw starting in 2014 is new. There are different possible causes, such as viruses and environmental toxins. AFM affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, which can cause the muscles and reflexes in the body not to work normally.

In August 2014, CDC was made aware of an increased number of people, mostly children, with AFM. Since then, we’ve been working hard to better understand AFM, what puts people at risk of getting it, and the possible causes. AFM remains rare (less than one in a million people), even with the recent increase in cases. However, AFM is serious, and we don’t yet know what causes most people to get it or how to protect people from getting AFM. As we continue to learn about AFM, we urge parents to seek medical care right away if their child develops symptoms of AFM.

Symptoms of AFM

AFM is rare, but it can lead to serious neurologic problems. You should seek medical care right away if you or your child develops any of these symptoms:

  • weakness and loss of muscle tone and reflexes in the arms or legs
  • facial droop or weakness
  • difficulty moving the eyes
  • drooping eyelids
  • difficulty swallowing
  • slurred speech

Infections That Can Cause Conditions like AFM

Certain viruses, such as poliovirusand West Nile virus, may sometimes lead to conditions like AFM. You can protect yourself and your children from these viruses by:

  • Making sure you are all up to date on polio vaccinations.
  • Protecting against bites from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, by using mosquito repellent, staying indoors at dusk and dawn (when bites are more common), and removing standing or stagnant water near your home (where mosquitoes can breed).

What CDC is Doing About AFM

CDC has been investigating AFM since we were made aware of an increased number of people with this condition in August 2014.

We have done extensive lab testing on specimens from patients, but have not determined what caused most of these people to get AFM. It is unclear what pathogen (germ) or immune response caused the arm or leg weakness and paralysis. AFM may have a variety of possible causes such as viruses and environmental toxins.

We are continuing to learn as much as we can about AFM by looking at each case to figure out what puts people at risk of getting this condition and what is causing it. Also, we are urging doctors to be alert for patients with symptoms of AFM and to report patients under investigation for AFM to their health departments.

If you would like to learn more about what CDC is doing, please visit CDC’s AFM in the United States website. If you would like to learn more about AFM, please visit CDC’s acute flaccid myelitis website.