The Brookings Institute, a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions, has published a report critical of current math education. Tom Loveless, a researcher at a division of the institute known as Brown Center Chalkboard, has a report called “The Algebra Imperative.” According to that report “International math assessments do not adequately measure how well American students are learning algebra.” Mr. Loveless takes aim specifically at the Algebra II course as an indicator of college readiness. He states, rather emphatically, “The credentialing integrity of Algebra II has weakened.”
While fewer than 50% of students completed this level of math in 1986, 75% of high school students now complete the course. However, according to Mr. Loveless, that statistic is misleading: “As enrollments boomed, test scores went down.” The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores demonstrate the change. A graph in the article indicates that the nation’s highest average scaled score of 324 occurred 1992. The test format changed in 2004, and the average scaled score is now 314.
The researcher adds, ”As unprepared students flow through a series of counterfeit courses, the entire curricular system is corrupted.” The titles of courses does not necessarily reflect the vigor or substance of math courses. A 2005 NAEP report provides the following analysis: “High school graduates in 2005 earned more mathematics credits, took higher level mathematics courses, and obtained higher grades in mathematics courses than in 1990. The report also noted that these improvements in students’ academic records were not reflected in twelfth-grade NAEP mathematics and science scores.”
This problem is endemic in the public school system. As expectations lower, the entire curriculum is undermined. Mr. Loveless concludes with a call for action, “We need to restore the legitimacy of college prep courses. Let’s ensure that all students who study and pass advanced subject matter have learned what that their parents, teachers and colleges assume they have learned.”