Should Your Eighth Grader Take Algebra

Algebra I concepts are now part of eighth grade math. Peter Macdiarmid via Getty Images

If your child has performed well in math class throughout elementary school, you have probably looked forward to the accelerated math classes in middle and high school.  You are proud of the work your child has been doing in math.  Perhaps you want to see them in a more advanced class that would provide more of a challenge.

Another benefit parents have looked forward to is the option to take Calculus or other college level math in high school.

 These classes often come with college credit - at a much cheaper cost than full college tuition.  Combine that with the benefit of showing college level work on a high school transcript and you can quickly see why parents want their teen children taking these classes.

The usual path to taking college level math classes in high school began by taking more advanced classes in middle school.  Specifically, this meant taking Algebra I in eighth grade.

The usual path is changing now, mostly due to new rigorous standards being adopted all across the country.  This isn't limited to states that have adopted common core state standards.  Under current policy, all states must adopt a challenging set of educational expectations for reading, writing and math. These new expectations have now placed much of the material that was Algebra I into eighth-grade math.  

What is now eighth-grade math contains as much as two-thirds of the same material that once was in Algebra I.


Ways Eighth Grade Math Is Different Today

The changes in standards for each grade level go beyond just a specific set of skills being taught in which grade.  These changes are designed to develop thinking and problem-solving skills.  When many of today's parents and even grandparents were in school we learned how to compute answers in our math classes.


With all of the calculators, apps and software programs available today the focus has shifted away from rote memorization to being able to deeply understand and then solve the kinds of problems that are encountered in real life.  

In order to teach math problem-solving skills, schools are shifting focus away from lots of calculation problems and towards using more real-life examples. Each grade of math now spends more time on the necessary skills to develop the deep understanding of what the numbers represent, and how to use math to figure out how to solve a problem. 

Eighth-grade math today reflects the use of Algebra I combined with having to explain what each number or variable used in a problem represents, and how it is useful.  

How This Change Can Affect Your Child

If your child's school district is in the midst of making a switch right now from an old, computation based eighth-grade math curricula to the new Algebra based curricula, your child may need some time to adjust to the change required in thinking the answers through.

 Your child's teacher will be aware of what the expectations were previously and will be able to bridge between what your child learned in previous years and the new expectations.

If your child's school has already made the shift to new standards your child will already be learning Algebra skills in eighth grade.  Becuase the new standards build on one another from year to year, it is critical that children master each skill before moving on.  

It used to be that if a child didn't quite master a topic in math, they would have a chance to learn it again the following school year when it was taught again.  With the new standards, there is more time to learn the material in the grade in which it is taught with almost no time to learn it in future grades.  This means that getting a solid understanding of the basic algebra building blocks in eighth grade is more critical than ever to future success in high school math.

Should Your Child Take an Advanced Eighth Grade Math Course?

So, what math class should your child take in middle school if they are a top performer in their math class?

It depends on your child and it depends on what your child's school is offering for math right now.

Pay close attention to the recommendations being made by your child's math teacher.  If your child has advanced level standardized test scores and regularly earns top marks in math, the teacher will most likely recommend your child for an advanced math class.

If your child's school has not changed to the new rigorous standards for middle school math yet, then taking Algebra in the eighth grade is still a wise decision.

Middle schools that have already shifted to newer standards often do not offer Algebra I or high school freshmen math anymore.  Instead, schools are offering an accelerated math option in which the three years of material that is taught in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade is taught quickly over seventh and eighth grade only.

This often includes an increased workload.  It also means that your child will need to be able to learn all of this material in a faster timeframe.  This is not being put ahead one year, it is learning all of the material for three years in two years.  

Remember how important it is to really learn and understand the material, since it will only be built upon. It won't be covered again.  The question isn't what your child already knows, it is whether your child would benefit from accelerated learning.  

  • Does your child wish that new math material was taught sooner?
  • Does your child enjoy figuring out how to solve all kinds of problems?
  • Does your child already have a good homework routine established?
  • Does your child have a growth mindset?

If you can answer yes to the above questions, then perhaps the accelerated timeframe is a good option for your child.  If your child is strong in math and does well with the pace of material being taught, then it may be wise to stay with the new regular grade level math courses.  

Your child will still be able to take math each year during high school, which will provide a strong foundation for college math classes they take in college.  By hurrying them through an accelerated timeframe, they risk not mastering the material and future struggles in high school

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