Accelerated Math: Beneficial or Counterproductive?


Lorena Acevedo

Students all over Florida deal with the repercussions of lacking proficiency in Algebra 1.

In recent years, advanced tracks have undoubtedly become the norm; many students are increasingly opting to take accelerated mathematics or science courses throughout their middle school years. For parents and students alike, taking Algebra 1 in the seventh grade can seem like anything but a setback. However, what may seem like a chance for students to get ahead and accelerate their education has the potential to do quite the opposite.

It is essential to recognize that the individual concepts that make up a subject such as math are intertwined. For example, Algebra concepts such as square roots and logarithms are actively present in Calculus. Because most of Calculus is built on the foundation of Algebra 1, understanding the subject is crucial for mathematic success throughout high school and even college.

At a standard level, students take Algebra 1 in freshman year and from there they advance into higher level classes such as Trigonometry or Precalculus. In contrast, middle schools have begun to offer courses such as Algebra 1 and Geometry as soon as seventh grade. This entails students jumping from sixth to ninth grade level math. While this transition is smooth for students with a high proficiency in mathematics, it can be overwhelming for others.

Algebra is the foundation of the rest of math. If you do not know your basic algebra skills when you go to higher level mathematics, you are going to get stuck in how to solve some of those problems. This is not necessarily because you do not know those higher level skills, but because you struggle with more basic skills. When students are deficient in those skills early on in middle school, it carries over to high school, and these weaknesses unfortunately catch up with them,

— Ms. Zuniga

Traditionally, Pre-Algebra serves as a prerequisite course to be completed before Algebra 1, aiming to prepare students for more difficult mathematics classes. In the absence of a Pre-Algebra course, however, students are met with an at times tough transition.

Although it is possible to work through this and retain the necessary information, the reality is most students do not. Reports show only 49% of Florida students passed the Algebra 1 End of Course exam in 2022, with only 1 in 5 labeled proficient, achieving scores of 3 or above. Numbers like this are difficult to ignore, undoubtedly signifying an issue with Algebra 1 education.

In many cases, it is possible students are simply being moved up without truly being ready. The decision of who moves up falls largely into the hands of teachers who base their decisions on test scores and in class performance. While these factors can be telling and important to note, they are not always clear indicators of a student’s potential success in Algebra 1. Common incidents like cheating, or even luck can affect student’s grades positively, making them seem like the perfect candidates for acceleration although they may not be ready.

In addition, it is also important for Algebra 1 to be taken seriously. Middle school is a time when many kids lack maturity; while that is completely normal, it is unfair to expect children of that age to be as focused on the material as high school students preparing for college would be.

“For me, taking Algebra 1 in the eighth grade was tough, one because I do not feel I was ready and two because I do not think I was taking it seriously. Everyone is so focused on getting ahead that they forget kids are going to be kids and for most math is not really a priority,” senior Anysia Gamez said.

For students who do not reach algebraic mastery, the lack of that skill is bound to follow them into higher level math. In cases like this, these students can become increasingly unmotivated to catch up. These feelings of helplessness during class can ultimately lead to students’ further detachment from mathematics.

“Before Algebra 1, I was really strong in math but for some reason after taking it, it all went downhill for me. Even in the grades after I just never really felt like I was understanding much and although I used to be more inclined to math, now I feel completely defeated by it,” junior Alejandra Dellano said.

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Students should be educated thoroughly on what an accelerated mathematics track entails, and briefed on what the rest of their mathematic education will look like, not just the following course. Their parents should also be informed about the importance of making the right decision to better aid their child in moving to the next step. This could be done through group parent meetings or teacher phone calls. Although potentially tedious, taking the steps to ensure each student is on the right path is a worthwhile feat.

In short, the decision to take accelerated math courses impacts students throughout their entire mathematic journey. Accelerated math tracks do not have 100% success rates and while for some they can mean academic enrichment, for others getting ahead can lead to falling behind.