Algebra opens other doors

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

BY DENISE SHERMAN, Staff Writer/EAST WAKE NEWS or 269-6101 ext. 101

KNIGHTDALE - Over and over again last Thursday night, parents heard about the importance of taking algebra in the eighth grade.

Wake County Public Schools senior director for middle school math Ken Branch said Algebra I in eighth grade is a gateway subject.

Branch was one of five speakers at a forum sponsored by Knightdale 100, an organization aimed at improving education in eastern Wake County.

"It is clearly the path to success not just in high school, but in college and in careers," he said.

Knightdale 100 chose the topic because of an earlier forum when Wake Education Partnership President Ann Denlinger showed data from a SAS software program that showed more eastern Wake County students are qualified to take algebra in eighth grade than take it.

According to 2008-2009 data, 50 percent of those the SAS EVASS evaluation showed could be successful in algebra at East Wake Middle School took it, 50 percent at Wendell Middle and 65 percent at Zebulon GT Middle.

Knightdale 100's Catherine Dameron said educators are working hard to change those statistics, and that the forum was needed to bring emphasis on algebra so that parents understand its importance.

Dameron said both East Wake Middle and Wendell Middle plan to increase the number of students taking pre-algebra by 50 percent this year.

Branch said students need algebra in eighth grade in order to take higher level math in high school. But he also said algebra is no longer only the province of the college bound.

"Algebra matters to the electrician and the computer scientist," he said.

Branch said during the 2010-2011 school year, Wake County Public Schools wants to increase the number of students eligible for advanced math classes. East Wake Middle School Principal Nancy Allen said already 25 percent more children, or 103 students, will be taking Algebra in the next school year than this year. This year, 86 students were enrolled in Algebra.

Braska Williams, pre-college coordinator for math and science at North Carolina State University, said students are more likely to earn bachelor's degrees if they take upper level math. And the students who take higher math have a higher earning potential, he said

But the key to algebra readiness starts in elementary school. Branch told parents, end of grade tests and a teacher's professional judgment are considered when students are recommended for sixth-grade advanced math, which starts the ball rolling toward algebra.

In most cases, students must take advanced math in sixth grade to take pre-algebra in the seventh grade, a prerequisite for algebra I in the eighth grade.

Educators also use the SAS software to predict student success when they consider student placement at the end of elementary school.

Even if a student lacks the traditional methods for placement in advanced mathematics and scores well in the software assessment, the student likely will be placed in advanced mathematics, Branch said.

Branch said teachers are told if a student is borderline to err on the side of advanced placement.

Denlinger, who also spoke at Thursday's forum, said Knightdale 100 had "a noble cause" to make sure every child has every opportunity to learn.

Denlinger, who has twice been a superintendent of schools, said it was important to get students in pre-algebra in seventh grade. She also said schools need a sense of pride. Details like a well-cared-for school matter in instilling that pride, she said. There is a correlation between an engaging curriculum and behavior, though she said all behavior problems couldn't be overcome by an engaging curriculum.
Principals of more successful schools invest their budgets in core academic subjects rather than supplementals, she said.

Parents were told the importance of communication with teachers as they make recommendations that can affect the path of their children. Parents can change a student's course if he or she disagrees with the recommended path, Branch said.

Wendell Middle School math teacher Louise Bilenky said students do well in algebra if they can interchange fractions and decimals, skills parents can make sure their children are learning in elementary school.


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