Algebra, the Gatekeeper for STEM

Algebra is one of the most important and  difficult courses for students in K-12 grades. It is considered the gatekeeper for high school graduation and for students pursuing further studies in STEM.

Most K-12 schools in the nation are still struggling on how to close the Algebra achievement gap. In 2017,  only 37.65% CA students met or exceed the math standards on the Smarter Balanced Standard Math tests. In 2008, over 212,000 students in grades 8-11 in California repeats the Algebra.This repeated Algebra course enrollment caused California to devote the equivalent of approximately 1,695 full-time Algebra teachers to reteach the course. California State Universities  will drop intermediate algebra as a prerequisite for non-math and science majors before they can take college-level math courses required to graduate. Students un-prepared will be struggling in those college-level math courses.

In 2015, only 26 percent of high-school students in New York State scored proficient (the college-ready level) in a state-wide Algebra exam based on the Common Core State Standards Math. The rest scored below the college-ready level. Only 46 percent passed the Algebra exam for high school graduation. In New York City with a large number of social economically disadvantaged minority students, only 16% reached the college-ready level.

Data from the Los Angeles Unified School District indicate that 75% of students who repeated Algebra failed the course the second time. Among 75,500 students who entered New York City high schools in 2010, 30% failed the Algebra exam for graduation on their first try. Those who failed the first time had to retake it in an average of twice or more in later years to graduate. Among students repeating the exam, the pass rate was only 20%. The cycle of failures often ends in students dropping out. Each year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school, namely 7,000 students per day.   Only 22 percent of the 8th graders in New York who took the 2017 standardized test scored high enough to be considered proficient at math.

Clearly,a better way of teaching Algebra is needed, especially for students who already failed the subject once or more. The C-STEM approach of teaching integrated Algebra and math with computing to all students presents an unprecedented opportunity for educational equity. Regardless of their race, gender, family background, income, or geographic location, all K-12 students should be provided with an opportunity to succeed in learning Algebra and computing. Algebraic and computational thinking can reinforce each other. Learning Algebra and math with computing is a cost-effective way to close the math achievement gap and provide computing education for all students without adding teachers or new courses.

More info about how C-STEM program help students prepare for and learn Algebra can be found in C-STEM Success Stories and in this article “Teaching Math with Computer Programming Can Help Narrow Achievement Gap” by the C-STEM Center Director Harry H. Cheng, EdSource, April 26, 2016.