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Are your students Algebra-ready?

It’s that time of year again! The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, spring break has ended, and math recommendations for the next school year are due. As a professional who has spent the last 7 to 8 months with these students, your recommendation is valuable. However, there are many facets to student learning. So how do you know if a student is ready for Algebra? Let’s look at several indicators from within the classroom. 

  • Number sense, number sense, and more number sense—students should have a solid understanding of integers, the relationship between a number as a fraction, decimal, and percent, and the most dreaded … fractions!
  • Knowledge of how to solve simple equations.

 While some indicators, such as those listed above, are concrete, others are abstract, which can also make them subjective based on a student’s classroom performance. 

  • Persistence—not everyone gets every problem correct on the first attempt. The ability to try and try (and try and try) again is a valuable skill for students to learn.
  • Self-advocacy—this is difficult for middle school and young high school students. Fostering a learning environment where students feel safe enough to pose questions, ask for help, challenge an incorrect answer, and even fail on occasion is key to their success.
  • The desire to be successful—success can be measured in several ways, including but not limited to grades, student growth, and the ability to make connections between concepts.

Creating a math learning environment that fosters Algebra readiness

The preparation of these indicators starts on Day 1. Creating an environment where students are willing to make mistakes (and fix them), where they can get the answer wrong (and correct it), and realize when this happens—and know that the world will not come to a standstill while they work it out—is essential to their long-term success. Some students will find this more challenging than others. One way to cultivate this skill is by allowing students to consistently work with partners or in groups. After all, there is safety (and strength) in numbers!

Along the way, students may begin to struggle because they have gaps in learning. What can you do to help these students fill the gaps while maintaining the pace of the course? 

  • Leverage adaptive technology to support student learning in school and at home. You’ll want to identify an educational product that is truly adaptive, will detect gaps in learning, and adapt backward. 
  • Flip your classroom using a personalized learning solution, post class notes online, provide resources for additional practice. For example, you can point them to extra pages in their math book or an online site that generates problems.
  • Offer lunch-time or after-school tutoring. If necessary, apply for a grant to assist with tutoring program costs.

Determining if your students are Algebra-ready

Now that you have worked your classroom teaching magic, how can you assess readiness? Start by working with your Professional Learning Community (PLC) or school math department to create a list of criteria that students must meet to be placed in Algebra. This will allow the process to be uniform throughout the school. Work such as this may have been done already—check with your county, district, or state for any documents already in place. If you find that you do need to determine the standards for advancement, here are a few suggestions:

  • Previous end-of-year state test scores
  • Class test average: an average of 85 to 90 percent is a general guideline, but it could be as low as 80 percent
  • Teacher recommendations
  • Pre-made Algebra readiness test score—most have scales and passing rates already determined

Using multiple criteria provides additional support for your professional recommendation. If it does not match your initial recommendation, take a few minutes to reconsider that particular student. We want all of our students to feel successful, but it is important to always stay true to yourself and your recommendation. By using a set of established criteria, I found that my own recommendations were accurate 90 to 95 percent of the time.

After the recommendations are complete and your students are securely tucked away with visions of the next grade level, take some time to smell those flowers that are blooming … before testing begins again!

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