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.

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.

 

5 Things to Know About Illinois’s New School Funding Formula

Last August, Illinois adopted a new evidence-based funding (EBF) formulafor providing new state funding for schools. The new EBF formula estimates what it actually costs to provide a quality education to students in each of Illinois’s 853 school districts (called the adequacy target) as well as the local tax resources available to the district to meet that funding level (their local capacity). State funds are then distributed with more money being directed to the school districts with the largest gap between their local capacity and their adequacy target.

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability has released a new report covering how the new EBF formula is working. Here’s what you need to know about it.

  1. Collectively, Illinois school districts are $7.37 billion short of adequate funding.The legislature and governor have verbally committed to increasing K-12 education funding by $350 million each year over 10 years. Note that this amount covers less than half of the total additional funds needed to provide a quality education to every Illinois student.
  2. Only 146 districts (17%) had resources above their adequacy target. The other 707 districts (83%) are below their adequacy target.
  3. Those districts furthest from adequacy (known as Tier 1 schools), are spending on average $5,000/student less than their adequacy target. By contrast the school districts at or above their adequacy target (Tier 4 schools) are spending about $3,000/student above adequacy.
  4. Of the $366 million of additional state funding that went through the EBF formula, 89.1% went to Tier 1 schools.This indicates that the new formula is correctly directing the most new money to the districts most in need.
  5. 63% of the new funding went to school districts that had 59% or more of their students coming from low-income homes.6% went to districts with low-income students making up 40% or more of their population. Again, this indicates that the new EBF formula is directing additional funds to those students who need additional supports.

The new funding formula represents a significant step in the right direction towards improving Illinois’s least-equitable school funding in the country. However, closing the gap between current funding and adequate funding will require continued commitment from legislators and the governor to increase state school funding. As part of the new funding law, a Professional Review Panel was created to oversee implementation, and Illinois PTA has a seat on that panel. In addition, the scholarship fund set up by the law (which Illinois PTA opposed) to get around Illinois’s constitutional ban on providing public funds to private schools will divert up to $75 million to private schools each year and it is not entirely clear how those funds are being handled.

 

Every Student Counts, Every Day Matters

Eighty percent of success is showing up. Nowhere is that more true than for our kids in school. Chronic absenteeism—missing at least 10% of the school days in a year for any reason, excused or unexcused—is a primary cause of low academic achievement and a powerful predictor of those students who may eventually drop out.

Missing 10% of school days seems like a lot, but in reality it is only missing two days each month. And it’s important to remember that even excused absences are included when measuring chronic absenteeism. An estimated 5 to 7.5 million students are chronically absent each year.

Chronic absenteeism is caused by many different issues—chronic health conditions, housing instability, involvement with the juvenile justice system, unsafe conditions in school, among many others. Students from low-income households, students of color, students with disabilities, students who move frequently, and juvenile justice involved youth are more likely to struggle with attendance problems, and these are most often the students who already face significant challenges in school. Research also indicates that chronic absenteeism can negatively affect the academic achievement of other students in the classroom, not just the absentee.

Chronic absenteeism is such a critical issue that Illinois created the Illinois Attendance Commission in 2015 to address the issue. Chronic absenteeism is also likely to be part of the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure(IBAM) that will be used to assess schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It may also count as a double measure for those students in kindergarten through second grade.

There are several resources that PTAs can use to help educate and inform families on the importance of student attendance. The Illinois Attendance Commission has created a short video with long-time Chicago broadcaster Merri Dee.

 

The US Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice have collaborated to create a toolkit for communities to address chronic absenteeism. The toolkit, called Every Student, Every Day, offers information, suggested action steps, and lists of existing tools and resources to help organizations and individuals who touch every aspect of a student’s life to work together to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism.

The organization Attendance Works has additional data and resources on how your PTA and school can address chronic absenteeism. Among the items available are:

Talk with your school principal or district superintendent about what they are doing to address chronic absenteeism and what your PTA can do to help.