Maryland school systems should not require middle school students to take Algebra I because most of them are not ready for the concepts of what has traditionally been a high school curriculum, a state task force has determined.
The push to offer algebra at a younger age has intensified over the past decade. Although Maryland does not require it, many school systems are considering making the course mandatory for eighth- graders.
But that's a mistake, said Francis "Skip" Fennell, a Western Maryland College professor and chairman of the 35-member task force that is studying ways to improve the state's math scores.
Not only are the concepts in Algebra I confusing for younger students, but it also takes time away from traditional middle school math that stresses the basics of computation skills and problem- solving, he said.
"I'm not saying algebra is not important. It is. I'm saying the underpinnings of algebra should flow through the curriculum," Fennell said. "Is it appropriate to take a high school course and plop middle schoolers into it and say it's appropriate for all kids? No, it's not."
Fennell said that school systems must come up with middle school math courses that introduce students to algebraic concepts but do not require complete mastery of algebra by year's end.
"Taking a high school course heavy with symbolic manipulation and dropping it down to [the] seventh or eighth grades will do nothing more than frustrate a lot of good students," he said. "We have to be careful. There are lots of other ways to approach algebra."
The recommendation is one of many that the task force will present to the state Board of Education in the next two months, Fennell said.
Other recommendations likely will include requiring that high school students take math all four years instead of three, and that students in all grades receive an average of an hour of math instruction daily.
The task force would like middle school math teachers to be certified in their subject matter, Fennell said. Now they need only general teaching certification for any subject in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Since 1996, third-grade math scores on Maryland's annual exams have been virtually unchanged, while fifth-grade scores have declined.
While the task force will offer these specific recommendations, it will also stress that the state do more to "market math" as being fun, challenging and exciting.
"The notion has always been that math gets a bad name, only nerds can do it," Fennell said. ****************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618) 453-4244 Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org