Once upon a time, most high school students took Algebra in their freshman year. If they took the subject at all.

Now, in most of the districts around here, Algebra I is fast becoming a class for most 8th graders. Or earlier.

Public schools nationwide are working to increase the number of students who study Algebra I, the traditional first-year high school math course, in eighth grade. Many Washington area schools have gone further, pushing large numbers of students two or three years ahead of the grade-level curriculum.

Math study in Montgomery County has evolved from one or two academic paths to many. Acceleration often begins in kindergarten. In a county known for demanding parents, the math push has generated an unexpected backlash. Many parents say children are pushed too far, too fast.

Other area school systems also are pushing students far beyond grade-level math. The goal is to shorten the time it takes students to reach Algebra I and broaden access to a course considered a foundation for later success on the SAT, in Advanced Placement study and in college.

More than one fourth of elementary students in our overly-large school district are on an accelerated track that will put them in Algebra I in the 7th grade.

Evidently, in addition to success on the SAT and AP tests, some of this acceleration is also due to pressure from parents who say their kids are bored with “regular” math.

And the only solution, of course, is to shove more advanced math classes down into lower grades.

I’d be willing to bet that most of these students don’t come out of the instruction with a good understanding of Algebraic concepts, although they probably get very good at cranking through the rote mechanical processes that has the appearance doing Algebra.

However, it’s that repetitive, mechanical, test-driven approach to teaching math that makes the subject boring in the first place. Especially in the elementary and middle grades.

I took Algebra I in junior high, and I turned out fine.

I just grokked math, I’m not sure why. I can’t wrap my mind around the idea of someone not understanding how to solve a single variable equation. My best guess is that my parents made me relentlessly learn my multiplication facts and the other basics that you just have to memorize, so when we covered more advanced topics at school, I thought about the new concepts rather than getting bogged down with division and such.

My two kids, an 8th and a 6th grader, are both going into Algebra next year. But we didn’t push them to this state. They got there step by step following the curriculum until they finished pre-algebra. I don’t think they find Math fun and easy, but I’d say they don’t find it any more difficult than on that first day of starting math. By eighth grade, kids have been exposed to elementary math work for…8 years. By this point, algebra shouldn’t be too difficult to learn. It’s not some new kind of math that diverges completely from earlier work. I think the word scares people not comfortable with math. But in reality, it is just the next step.