New York State is grappling with the difficulty of the Common Core Algebra test. The intent is to raise the passing score to require real mastery of the material, but realistically speaking, most students are not reaching mastery. (In fact, even with the original, very low standards, some students had to take the exam many times to pass or might not pass at all.)
The core of this issue seems to be: what is the purpose of teaching algebra? For example:
- If the purpose is to preserve the opportunity for all students to enter science/engineering/math, then the standard should be high. It does no good to a student to barely scrape through algebra if they want to be a scientist.
- If the purpose is to give everyone exposure to a beautiful subject, then the standard should be kept relatively low: it is the exposure, not mastery, that is important.
- If the purpose is to give people access to math they need for life, then algebra should be dropped or revamped. Many people do not need algebra in life, and a high barrier to graduation does them no good.
Right now, the grade required to pass is being used as a proxy for this kind of battle. Those whose focus is on high school graduation want the required grade to drop. Those whose focus is on preparing students for STEM careers want it to go up. Without resolving this difference of goals, everyone will just keep shouting at everyone else and we’ll end up with a muddled policy that drags students in multiple directions.
Alas, that is not so unusual.