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.

 

Local Unit Spotlight: STEPS PTSA Takes On The World!

Today’s post kicks off a new series highlighting the good things that our local PTAs and Councils are doing. If your PTA or Council would like to brag a bit about what they are doing, send a short write-up to your District or Region Director, noting that it’s for One Voice Illinois. Don’t forget to send us some pictures of your event as well!

STEPS PTSA, servicing the Indian Prairie District 204 transition program for young adults with disabilities, kicked off the 2018 school year in style! More than 50 PTSA members, including parents, teachers, students, alumni, administrators, and school board members were on hand to celebrate a summer of successful and noteworthy achievements.

The STEPS PTSA recognized 17 students and coaches for their accomplishments. Their accomplishments included Special Olympics state qualifiers, members of Team USA—Unified Cup tournament, Special Olympics USA games, Special Olympics World Games, keynote speaker at the National Best Buddies conference, keynote speaker at the Special Olympics Women in Leadership breakfast, MLS All-Star athlete, and members of the Chicago Fire All-Star soccer team. The students and coaches each shared their amazing experiences with the audience and each brought memorabilia, photos, medals, uniforms, and newspaper articles to display. The audience cheered them on waving pom-poms and rally towels. It was a wonderful celebration of student abilities and a fantastic way to start the year!

The STEPS PTSA was formed in 2017 with the goal of focusing on the unique abilities of these young adults and supporting the STEPS Transition Program. The STEPS PTSA works to create social opportunities, activities, and events that allow their members to get involved in the community. STEPS Alumni are an important part of the PTSA. They are invited to join the PTSA so that they will continue to have access to social and community activities and events. The STEPS PTSA knows the importance of building an inclusive culture and breaking down barriers. The sky is the limit for the STEPS PTSA students and alumni!

Survey of Highlights Needs of LGBTQ Youth

In 2016, PTA adopted a resolution in favor of recognizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) individuals as a protected class, noting that LGBTQ youth are frequent targets of harassment and bullying and have higher rates of isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts than the general student population. This month, the Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut released its 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report.

The report is the largest survey of its kind ever, having surveyed over 12,000 LGBTQ teenagers ages 13 to 17 from across the nation. The survey found that these teenagers are experiencing not only high levels of stress, anxiety, and rejection, but also overwhelmingly feel unsafe in their own classrooms. The survey also clearly indicated the important role that supportive families and inclusive schools play in LGBTQ students’ success and well-being. Among the results are:

  • 77% of LGBTQ teenagers reported feeling depressed or down over the past week.
  • 95% of LGBTQ teenagers reported trouble sleeping at night.
  • More than 70% report feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week.
  • Over 50% of transgender youth said that they canneveruse the school restrooms that align with their gender identity.
  • Only 11% of LGBTQ teenagers of color said their racial or ethnic group was regarded positively in the US.
  • Only 26% of LGBTQ youth said that they always feel safe in their school classrooms, and only 5% say that all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ teenagers.
  • 67% report that they have heard family members make negative comments about LGBTQ people.

The full reportincludes a section covering what parents and family members, school administrators and teachers, mental health and medical professionals, and policy makers and advocacy leaders can do to help.