Document Type

Policy Brief

Publication Date

8-13-2021

Abstract

Algebra I is viewed as a gateway course to college preparatory math. Some students require additional supports to succeed in Algebra I, including differentiated instruction and the strategic grouping of students. Thomas Goldring analyzed one of the placement criteria used to assign students to Algebra I with additional supports—scores on statewide math assessments taken in upper elementary grades—in a metro-Atlanta school district. Are these test scores in fourth and fifth grade predictive of receiving additional supports in Algebra I years later?

We use administrative data from a metro-Atlanta school district. Students took Algebra I between school year (SY) 2015-16 and SY 2018-19. Most students took Algebra I in ninth grade, but about a sixth of students took Algebra I in eighth grade. Approximately 10% of students took the Algebra I assessment in grades 10 to 12. On average, 13% of students took Algebra I with additional supports.

We observe a strong statistical link between performance on the end-of-grade math assessment in fourth and fifth grades and the end-of-course Algebra I score years later; however, fifth-grade math scores are not particularly predictive of receiving additional supports in Algebra I. Algebra I students with additional supports have about as much chance of scoring better on Algebra I (compared to fifth-grade math) as students taking regular Algebra I. There is not an obvious, distinct cut point to assign students to Algebra I with additional supports using only the distribution of fifth-grade and fourth-grade math scores.

Our research has several policy implications. The district could place greater weight on math test scores in upper elementary grades when determining additional support needs for students taking middle school math coursework and Algebra I. In particular, the district could try to identify why some students scored well below the state average in upper elementary math but did not receive additional supports in Algebra I.

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