I came across a study recently and something caught my eye: in the Chicago Public Schools, “only 13% of students who fail both semesters of Algebra I in 9th grade graduate in 4 years, and the largest share of 9th grade algebra failures occur in the second semester of the course.” (Heppen, Walters, et al. for Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management)
Algebra is widely known as the “gateway” course. It lays the foundation required to succeed in more advanced math courses and it helps prepare students for college and career. It not only teaches students the language of math, but also helps students develop problem-solving, logic, and critical thinking skills.
On the flip side, failing Algebra is cited as one of the key predictors of high school drop-outs. The California Research Dropout Project tracked the education performance of over 48K students entering 9th grade for the first time in the Los Angeles Unified School District. This 7-year longitudinal study examined a variety of factors to predict on-time graduation rates (e.g. graduated in 4 years). Demographics explained only 4% of the student level variability in drop-out rates whereas student academic experiences and school characteristics explained more of the variability. In particular, the study found that controlling for all other variables, students who passed Algebra 1 by the end of their freshman year increased the likelihood of graduating on-time by more than 75% (Silver, Saunders, and Zarate).
Other studies also support this finding. A study of over 4,000 students in the Anchorage School District found that students who passed Algebra 1 by 8th grade or earlier were twice as likely to graduate on time vs. those students who did not pass Algebra 1 by 8th grade. In fact, it was found to be a statistically significant predictor of whether a student graduated or dropped out. In the Chicago Public Schools, a study by Allensworth and Easton found that poor student performance in their freshman year was a key predictor of dropping out. While the study did not specifically examine Algebra, it is a core subject for many students in their first year of high school.
Identifying the key predictors of high school drop-out rates is just part of the battle. Now that we understand some of the key levers, what can we do? Helping students to succeed in Algebra (among other things) can help to reduce the likelihood that a student will drop out of high school. So, what can educators and schools do to help students succeed in Algebra?
We can proactively identify students who are struggling, identify the concepts and topics they are struggling with, and work with the students to close the knowledge gaps. I think one of the reasons why a large share of Algebra failures happen in the second semester is because students did not develop a strong enough foundation in the first semester. Math is a subject that builds on itself and without a solid base, the cracks will show sooner or later. I spoke to one former high school teacher who said he found many students struggled in Geometry, not because they didn’t understand Geometry concepts, but because they didn’t have strong enough Algebra skills. However, expecting teachers to single-handedly identify and remediate every student on every topic is unrealistic and unfair, especially with increasing class sizes and diverse needs of each student. But we can provide the tools and resources to help teachers in the classroom so that they are better equipped to help students. And here’s where Knowre can help.
Our technology identifies gaps in learning at the most granular level. We understand that students need to be able to add before they can multiply. If a student answers a question incorrectly, we walk them through the problem-solving process, step-by-step, much like a teacher would. And through this process, we can pinpoint the exact concept the student is struggling with and get to work on closing the gaps. Furthermore, we generate personalized review questions that target each student’s gaps, providing another opportunity for students to cement their understanding of Algebraic concepts. This is what makes our technology so unique – we not only identify the gaps at a granular level, but also provide multiple ways to help students close the gaps and build a strong foundation.
We’re now into the second half of the year. Do you have students who are struggling, who need help building foundational skills? Students whom you think are at risk? Could you or your teachers benefit from additional tools and resources? Have you been searching for solutions for your classroom or school? Why not sign up for a short, online demo to see how we can help?