What should you do if you have a large group of students who are likely not to pass the standardized test at the end of the year? Well, you could lower the passing score. But that’s not really an option for a school district when the state sets the bar.

The other possibility is to move the students to another class that doesn’t require them to take the test.

That’s exactly what a large school district just up the road from here is doing.

At least 2,500 ninth-graders in Prince George’s County will abruptly move this week from a standard one-year algebra course into a two-year program, shielding the struggling students from a state graduation test this spring that officials said they were likely to fail.

That 2500 is twenty percent of the freshmen in the county currently enrolled in Algebra I.

I don’t have much direct information about PG county schools but I suspect there is more going on here than the overeager social promotion system noted by a teacher in the article. More likely, a larger part of the problem is that the content of the math classes leading up to Algebra don’t teach the necessary foundational concepts.

In most school systems in the US, upper elementary and middle school students spend far too much time reviewing computation and rote memorization in preparation for their tests. As was noted in the comments recently, “what gets tested, gets taught”. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for students to succeed at upper levels.

Algebra can be a tough class, a stumbling point for too many students. However, if they get a good mathematical foundation in the previous five or six years, most kids will do well in the class. But that will require a big change in the curriculum (and standardized tests) to emphasize understanding mathematical concepts, not computational skills.