State Board gets authority to pare back 8th grade math standards

Gov. Jerry Brown evidently agrees that California’s math standards should align more closely with the national Common Core standards. On Thursday, he signed SB 1200, which will allow the State Board to weed out the dozens of California state Algebra standards that were inserted two years ago with the adoption of Common Core as part of an ongoing, unresolved debate over what students should learn in eighth grade.
Advocates of SB 1200, which the Department of Education drafted, argue that the amalgamation of eighth grade standards created confusion for teachers and for publishers, who would have to design unique materials for California for an unwieldy course combining pre-Algebra and Algebra I. Critics, who include former State Board of Education Executive Director John Mockler, charged that SB 1200 will result in discouraging most students from taking Algebra I in eighth grade. That’s because removing the California standards will leave Common Core pre-Algebra standards as the default course for eighth grade.
Brown didn’t comment; he only signed the bill. But State Board President Michael Kirst immediately put out a statement praising the enactment of the bill and denied the bill will lead to the elimination of Algebra I as an eighth grade option. “Placement of students in math courses, based on their readiness, is still a local decision and should remain as such,” Kirst said. “The decision of when a student is ready for higher mathematics must be based upon his/her classroom performance and not impersonal directives from Sacramento.”
Last year, about two-thirds of students had taken Algebra I by eighth grade. With only about half of them testing as proficient on the state Algebra I test, it’s clear that some had been pushed into Algebra before they were ready, in part because of a state testing policy that dings a school for students who take less than the Algebra I test in eighth grade. The question is how much the pendulum will swing when pre-Algebra becomes the sole  standards for eighth grade. Common Core proponents argue that many students will be better prepared for Algebra I in ninth grade, having taken Common Core’s more deliberate pace, stressing math literacy and logic.
Kirst and Bill Honig,a former state superintendent who chairs a commission overseeing the implementation of Common Core for the State Board, say a clear pathway for students ready for Algebra I in eighth grade will be delineated. Though not in the state standards per se, it will be in the curriculum frameworks, a detailed document providing guidance and examples of best practices for teachers that will be completed in the fall of 2013.
SB 1200 “marks a critical step forward in California’s efforts to implement the Common Core Standards and to ensure Algebra is accessible to every student,” Kirst said. For many students, it will likely happen in ninth grade.
The bill requires that the State Board complete the revision of the standards by the end of March.
(For previous coverage of this issue in EdSource Today, go here and here.)
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