On July 9, the California State Board of Education voted 8-1 to test all eighth graders in algebra, replacing the General Mathematics Test and making California the first state to require algebra at such an early level.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had encouraged the move with a letter to the Board earlier this week. “Algebra is the key that unlocks the world of science, innovation, engineering and technology,” said the governor in a statement. Several organizations released statements of support for the stricter standard, including the California Council on Science and Technology and the California Business Roundtable.
“This is an important step in the right direction for California, but it must be complemented with increasing the ability to attract, recruit and retain the teachers necessary to teach algebra at sufficiently high levels,” said CCST representative Eilene Cross at the Board of Education meeting.
Interest in the discussion was high; the California State Board of Education Board room was filled to capacity as upwards of 200 people were present, representing top California state government offices, California teacher’s organizations, K-12 administrators and teachers, union representatives, and many others. The issue before the Board was highly contentious, characterized by many impassioned comments on both sides.
“CCST and other organizations have been drawing attention to the challenge of raising mathematics standards for several years,” said CCST Executive Director Susan Hackwood. “California simply cannot afford to lose ground in science and math education in this fiercely competitive global economy, which is why we supported the Governor’s request to the State Board of Education to designate the Algebra 1 exam as California’s test to measure eighth grade mathematics. However, it must be noted that the demand for fully prepared and effective Algebra 1 teachers has already out-stripped the supply. We hope that this call to action will be matched by an equally important push to improve the supply of teachers.”
CCST’s testimony calling for complementary actions and resources to improve the quality of our middle school mathematics teachers received support and acknowledgement from several Board members.
“Our comments [at the Board meeting] clearly highlighted the need for and consequences of setting high academic standards for math education,” said Cross. “We’re pleased that the Board not only adopted the stricter standard, but also reiterated its commitment to seek the funding necessary to address issues of teacher preparation, recruitment, retention and professional development.”