Middletown Debates Value of 8th Grade Math, Algebra I, as Prep for High School


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MIDDLETOWN — Members of the district’s math department said they will continue to offer Algebra 1 as an enrichment course to eighth graders at least through next year, and that any future curriculum changes will happen only after receiving input from the community. 

Before this year, students were able to choose between taking eighth grade math or skipping ahead to Algebra I. 

Stacey McCann, the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said at a meeting of the curriculum committee on Thursday that having all eighth graders take eighth grade math was a step toward equity, and that it gives them foundational skills that they will need as they transition to higher levels of math. 

“To level the playing field, all students are taking eighth grade math because, as you can see, those topics are discrete. They need them. They’re not found in the algebraic content,” said McCann. She said that very few topics in eighth grade math — which includes slope and linear functions and equations, exponent rules, irrational numbers and finding the area of squares and volume of cubes — lined up with Algebra 1. 

Rich Cordaway, the district’s director of PreK-12 mathematics and intervention, also said that having students skip eighth grade math and go straight to Algebra 1 puts them at a disadvantage on state assessments, which specifically test their abilities to do eighth grade math. 

Board members at the meeting asked about concerns brought forward by parents about changes that could affect the district’s calculus pathway — from pre-algebra in seventh grade to AP Calculus in high school. 

“We’re seeing a lot of unhappiness around this. It’s very confusing,” said board member Debra Guss. 

The district has floated other changes to the math curriculum, including the approval of a data science course last January and a proposal that could combine Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra II into two classes — called Integrated Algebra and Integrated Geometry. 

According to the district’s website, the decision to combine the three classes into two would allow students to take algebra in either eighth, ninth or 10th grade and still be able to take Calculus before graduating high school. 

McCann said that the conversations happening at the high school level might have caused the confusion among parents regarding Algebra 1. 

Currently, 46 of about 340 eighth graders are taking Algebra 1 in addition to eighth grade math. Yvonne Daniels, the district’s 6-12 math supervisor, said that students were chosen for Algebra 1 using a combination of their state standardized testing scores, results from in-district assessments, in-class work and feedback from teachers. 

Eighth graders who take Algebra 1 take it in place of an “Encore” class — STEM, health or art.  

Community member Sheila Daniels said she was surprised that only 46 of the 300-plus eighth graders qualified for Algebra 1.

“Is that reflecting on the math and how we’re preparing our kids for Algebra, or for their future math success and their trajectory?” she said. 

Yvonne Daniels replied that Algebra I was meant to come after eighth grade math, and that the district was preparing students to follow in the traditional pathway. But she said the test scores in math were increasing, which was why the district was looking at opportunities for students to accelerate in math in both middle and high schools. 

“We do anticipate as the scores go higher that the opportunities will open up,” said Yvonne Daniels. 

At the meeting, district staff were not able to provide the demographics of the 46 eighth graders in Algebra 1. But the staff members said it was a diverse group. 

“There are a diverse number of students in the Algebra 1. Students that are normally marginalized are participating in Algebra I. They qualify,” said McCann. 

Staff members in the meeting were not able to name other districts that were taking the same approach to mathematics as Middletown, although Daniels acknowledged that other districts experience the same struggles with preparing teenagers for high school math.

“We are trying something that is innovative to make sure that our kids are prepared because what we are doing is not working – and what they’re doing is not working.” said Daniels. 

Board member DeLita Rose-Daniels said she agreed. 

“I think that it is important for us as a community, as parents, not to continually look at other districts necessarily as our foundation,” said Rose-Daniels. “Our kids are unique to our district. Our needs are unique to our kids.” 

Cordaway said he hadn’t found any districts that had found a solution to the problem. 

“The whole idea of skipping eighth grade math — most math people agree that’s not good,” said Cordaway. “We’re trying to set our kids up for success in the future … not just in eighth grade, but in high school and beyond for whatever careers or pathways that they choose.” 

According to a letter from Superintendent Alberto Vazquez-Matos, the district plans to have a community conversation about the Integrated Algebra course in October, and a conversation about the Integrated Geometry course in December. The courses are scheduled to be brought to the board in January.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.