I have repeatedly mentioned that our school district places ~20% of the 6th graders in a math class that compacts the CA 6th grade and 7th grade math curriculum into one year. Those kids are then able to take algebra in the 7th grade, putting them on track to complete calculus by 11th grade. That's the de facto honors math track.
Nationally, it is quite rare. Even within California, only 6.7% of all 7th graders do so--mainly in well-to-do and high-tech areas. That 18.5% of the kids at my daughter's Title 1 school (40% of the kids are poor and/or have parents who did not complete high school) did so last year is a source of pride for our community. (Even though kids of highly educated parents are more likely to be on that track, a significant number of at-risk kids take the class alongside them and do fine.)
I was chatting with my daughter's pre-algebra teacher at open house, when I lamented that the 7th graders wouldn't be segregated from the 8th graders in algebra. I had hoped my daughter could continue in a fast-paced math class. She has often told me how much she liked that class and the teacher. I was worried that the 8th graders would slow the 7th graders down.
If you look at the CST Algebra 1 test scores for the entire state of California (below), you will see that 7th grade algebra students score much, much higher (430 vs 350 ) than 8th graders. 9th graders fare worse and 10th and 11th graders do even more poorly.
Then the teacher said what appeared to be a non-sequitur. She said that we could sign her up for gender-based algebra.
When my daughter asked us to fill out a gender-based algebra form, stating our preference that she be placed in an algebra class of all girls, we reluctantly signed it. It was her preference, not ours. My husband and I had assumed that the class would be filled with girls who were NOT math-confident.
The teacher elaborated that the school district superintendent was a big proponent of gender-based algebra and that education scholars were following the results in our district with great interest. I said the results are not statistically valid because of selection bias. At this point, I was still clueless, assuming that the girls' scores would be lower than the boys'. But I couldn't understand why the superintendent would so strongly support this program because he struck me as a data-driven guy.
Then the teacher said that the parents of the boys complained because the girls' algebra class had become the de facto honors math class because only the girls very serious about math signed up for it. The boys were relegated to algebra classes with a higher percentage of kids who had difficulty with math. To be fair to the boys, she would also teach a boys only algebra class next year.
Her point was that gender-based algebra test scores look really good because of selection bias.
I would like to point out that 7th graders test higher than 8th graders in the same math class because of selection bias, too. In a perfect world, kids take algebra when they are prepared for it. The kids that are ready at a younger age are more likely to excel than the kids that take it at a later time. But, you can't take the same kid and throw them in a higher level class and expect them to do better. (With the exception of bored and under-achieving kids.) Sorry, putting Kindergardeners in algebra is not going to make CA stack up against Singapore. ;-)
Correlation does not imply causality is my statistical pet peeve.
Just the same, I went to the assistant principal in charge of curriculum to explain that my daughter really, really wants to take gender-based algebra next year and could he check to make sure it doesn't conflict with her preferred electives?
We've come a long way, baby. Even MIT has matriculated more girls than boys in recent years.
CST Algebra I (California overall)
|% of Enrollment||6.7 %||57.3 %||52.3 %||23.8 %||12.1 %|| |
|Students with Scores||31,480||274,182||268,975||117,798||56,451||748,886|
|Mean Scale Score||430.9||350.3||307.9||290.1||282.3||323.9|
|% Advanced||50 %||16 %||3 %||1 %||1 %||9 %|
|% Proficient||35 %||30 %||19 %||11 %||8 %||22 %|
|% Basic||11 %||24 %||26 %||23 %||19 %||24 %|
|% Below Basic||4 %||22 %||36 %||42 %||45 %||31 %|
|% Far Below Basic||1 %||7 %||16 %||23 %||27 %||14 %|