More students than ever are enrolling in rigorous math and science courses -- but that label probably doesn't imply what parents and students think it does. A new report, released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and part of an ongoing high-school transcript study, showed that while almost every member of the high school class of 2005 took Algebra I, as few as one in four students were actually presented with the type of material that would prepare them for college.
The report's release brought together a panel of experts, including CTEq's own Linda Rosen, to speak about the implications of the study. Panelists acknowledged the results are sobering -- parents, students, and policymakers have long assumed that these courses comprise the first step on a college-ready track, and more and more careers will rely on a greater knowledge of algebra in the years to come. The analysis found that students are taking more math in high school, but if the class doesn't cover the subject meaningfully, there will be trouble down the pike. Labelling every ninth-grade math course "Algebra I" won't increase proficiency or knowledge.
The report, which looked at textbooks and transcripts, determined that of the material in a standard Algebra I textbook, only two-thirds of it was related to algebraic topics. The last third was devoted to elementary and middle school concepts. Roughly the same breakdown was seen in geometry textbooks. Of the students enrolled in an "honors" course, 73 percent of them were using materials more suited to an intermediate math course.
Part of the problem, of course, is preparedness: If students enter high school unready, presenting them with too-rigorous material would set them up for failure. Hopefully the Common Core standards, which are more rigorous than several states' standards and, more importantly, create a standard understanding of algebra and geometry, will help rectify the "title inflation," as Linda dubbed the trend. But it's clear that we need to start thinking about how to ensure quality in order to ensure that students are receiving the best education possibe.