Chicago Schools Find Double Dose Of Algebra Boosts Long-Term Success

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

Math fans rejoice! A new study in Education Next has shown that doubling down on algebra classes leads to long-term positive effects on college entrance exam scores, high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates.

The study focused on a pilot program in Chicago public schools (CPS) that was initiated in 2003. In an attempt to boost sagging ninth-grade algebra scores, then-school math official Martin Gartzman began a program of “double-dose” algebra classes to give struggling students extra time.

“Double-dosing had an immediate impact on student performance in algebra, increasing the proportion of students earning at least a B by 9.4 percentage points, or more than 65 percent,” said the report . “The mean GPA across all math courses taken after freshman year increased by 0.14 grade points on a 4.0 scale.”

To investigate the impact of the program, a trio of American researchers analyzed data that tracked students from 8th grade all the way to enrollment in college. They then divided the students into two subsets: students performing just above and just below the double-dose threshold.

The researchers found that in addition to raising student performance, the program had a connection to raised graduation rates for certain students.

“Although the intervention was not particularly effective for the average affected student, the fact that it improved high school graduation and college enrollment rates for even a subset of low-performing and at-risk students is extraordinarily promising when targeted at the appropriate students,” the authors wrote.

While Gartzman´s CPS team could only follow the students for a year after the program began, the researchers saw improvements appear five years after implementing the double-dose of algebra.

Gartzman said that he first saw the Education Next article sitting in his dentist´s waiting room and said it was “was mind-blowing for me. I had no idea that the researchers were continuing to study these kids.”

Gartzman later found out that“¯Takako Nomi, an affiliated researcher at the University of Chicago´s Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), and Elaine Allensworth, interim director of CCSR, had been tracking his students over the years.

“Nomi and Allensworth did some really sophisticated modeling that only researchers could do, that school districts really can´t do,” Gartzman said. “It validates school districts all over the country who had been investing in double-period strategies.”

“These are really hard problems. A great 21st-century university ought to try to solve the hardest problems facing our society,” he added. “In the world of K-12 education, this is one of the hardest problems.”

In their report, the researchers added that the double-dose strategy is becoming a popular and effective way to aid students struggling in mathematics. According to the report, almost half of “large urban districts” in the US use double math classes to remediate their struggling students.

With many urban schools subscribing to the theory that algebra is a “gateway for later academic success,” many districts are using “effective and proactive intervention” for those who lack foundational mathematical skills, the report said.