A recent Brookings study, part of the Brown Center’s annual Report on American Education, suggests that introducing algebra to middle school students might not boost National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math scores. An almost nationwide push between 2005 and 2011 to increase eighth-grade enrollment in Algebra 1 classes was based on the assumption that introducing more advanced math to a broader range of middle school students would prepare them for higher NAEP scores and more advanced math in high school. However, the study shows no significant correlation between increased enrollment and higher performance.
Additionally, an analysis of high school coursework conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics concluded that many high school Algebra 1 and geometry classes cover more rudimentary than advanced math principles, which may throw the utility of advanced middle school math courses into question.
What’s interesting to note is that the Brookings study found that NAEP scores actually did increase for eighth-grade Algebra 1 classes in states that did not increase enrollment, suggesting that mean achievement levels drop as enrollment climbs.