02:42am Tuesday 26 May 2020

Learning algebra too early may harm some students, UC Davis study says

The study will be presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association in Vancouver, Canada.

In the study, UC Davis School of Education professors Michal Kurlaendar and Heather Rose, together with education programs consultant Don Taylor, found that the lowest-performing eighth-grade math students — who are least likely to be prepared for algebra — may be academically harmed by a policy that requires all eighth graders to take the course.

Such a universal policy, first proposed by the California Board of Education, does not take into account the skills and needs of individual students, the researchers argue.

Much of current education policy — including proposed policy by the California state Board of Education — bears out that, overall, students who complete algebra earlier are more likely to take advanced math courses in high school, graduate from college and earn more money in their lifetimes.

The study is the first of its kind to focus solely on the impact of placing the lowest-performing students in eighth-grade algebra.

“The ‘algebra for all’ argument is that taking algebra in the eighth grade will benefit minorities and low-income groups,” said Rose. “But our study found that the lowest-performing students, composed significantly of low-income students of color, did not benefit on standardized tests and had significantly lower GPAs than their peers, which may be a result of unfavorable comparisons to higher-performing students in the same courses.”

Low-performing students more often fail algebra in the eighth grade because they have not received the additional support they need to succeed, requiring them to take the course again in ninth grade, the study reported.

“Although placement in algebra courses as soon as possible should remain a goal to ensure students are not tracked out of college placement, we believe that a universal eighth-grade algebra policy has not been proven to benefit all and requires more research to better understand potential issues,” said Rose. “We have an obligation as educators to ensure that the lowest-performing students do not see school as a punishment in the form of lower grades, social embarrassment and parental ire.”

This paper will be presented at the AERA Conference at the Vancouver Convention Center Sunday, April 15, East Ballroom C, from 8:15 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.

Other UC Davis research

Other UC Davis research being presented at the AERA conference, which runs from April 13 to 17:

Some English Learners Are Losing Literacy at the Price of ‘Standards’

The emphasis on standardized, packaged curricula to eliminate disparities among students actually reduces students’ literacy, a new UC Davis study suggests.

“This runs counter to everything we know about good teaching, which is designed to differentiate instruction for the needs of learners with different linguistic and academic needs, not standardize it,” said Kerry Enright, the UC Davis School of Education professor who authored the study. She looked at language and literacy practices across the high school curriculum at a comprehensive high school in California’s Central Valley whose teaching, assessment, and accountability practices are typical of many linguistically diverse schools.

Enright will present her study, “Raising Standards and Reducing Literacy,” at the conference on Monday, April 16, at the Vancouver Convention Center, Sheraton Wall Centre, North Gulf Islands BCD.

Students Appreciate Science More When They Experience It in Nature

A combination of hands-on environmental restoration, classroom work and writing can help improve students’ environmental stewardship and understanding of science, a new UC Davis study finds.

Heidi Ballard, assistant professor of environmental education at UC Davis, teamed up with colleagues at the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, Calif., (http://landbasedlearning.org/) to study 60 students at three public high schools in California’s Central Valley. The students participated in five days of habitat restoration work and wrote pre- and post-field day reflections on their understanding of the scientific concepts and outcomes of their work.

“Stewardship attitude scores jumped immediately following the field day, and students themselves pointed out how important knowledge and understanding was to their sense of ownership and competence with respect to their restoration projects,” said Ballard.

Ballard and her team will present “Building Bridges Between Science Classrooms and Working Landscapes Through Collaborative Environmental Education Research” on Friday, April 13, Vancouver Convention Center, East Room 1.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has more than 32,000 students, more than 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget that exceeds $684 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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