The Algebra Problem

Research shows that students who complete a mathematics course beyond the level of Algebra II more than double the odds of pursuing and completing post-secondary education (Adelman, 1999). Many districts now require completion of an Algebra I course prior to completion of 9th grade (Loveless, 2008). In California, many students are failing Algebra.  In fact according to an Edsource (2011) report of those students who were enrolled in 8th grade Algebra 1, nearly one-third of  students scored “below basic” or “far below basic”.  Across the country failure of Algebra can run as high as fifty percent, such an alarming statistics calls into question how Algebra is taught and moreover how students are prepared. There is little agreement as to what prerequisite skills will lead to later success in Algebra. Although there is some fascinating research that examines how young children are capable of understanding Algebra concepts at a much younger age than once believed. Most recently, Brizuela and colleagues (2012) followed 19 students in grades 3,4, and 5 throughout middle school. The experimental group received weekly algebra lessons plus homework and were compared with a control group. Results showed that students in the experimental group outperformed their peers on algebra assessments given in grades 5, 7, and 8. If our goal is to promote student understanding of Algebra so that students feel comfortable, using multiple strategies within a representation, analyze situations and making connections between representations than what approaches should teachers incorporate to make algebra meaningful and moreover students successful?