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#parent | #kids | The best way to fill in the algebra gaps? Slowing down. | #parenting | #parenting | #kids


Ishmael Brown Jr. is a stickler for notes when he teaches algebra I to ninth graders at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. After he gives students a problem, he typically walks around and watches how they’re solving it; he wants to see their reasoning with the answer. Not so this year: As of May, only about a sixth of his students were in person and the rest online.

With so many web tools out there that solve math problems, it’s easy for Brown’s online students to find a shortcut to answers and the calculations that go with them. So he has no idea if they’re learning.

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Connecting with kids has been a struggle, too. Brown’s virtual students aren’t required to turn on their cameras, so he can’t tell whether they’re paying attention. Few speak up. In person, his classes are fun, and the students engaged: “I relate whatever it is that we’re doing to something closer to real life,” he said.

The effects are showing up in test scores. In his intermediate algebra class — the second semester of algebra I — 30 percent of his students are passing tests, compared with close to 70 percent in previous years. “I really don’t think that they’re growing,” said Brown, who’s also president of the National Tutoring Association. “I think this is a lost school year for most kids.”

Similar stories are coming in from all over the country. Educators and school leaders are scrambling to figure out how to regain ground next year in a course that often makes or breaks students’ life chances.

“I’m very worried. I think of math like Legos — you can’t build a house if you don’t have that first foundation.”

Jeffrey Coots, a Kentucky algebra teacher

Students who fail algebra I are far less likely to graduate than others. A 2016 study by the American Institutes for Research noted that about a third of Chicago’s public high school students fail one or both semesters of algebra I. Of those who failed both semesters in 2005-06, only 15 percent graduated in four years. A 2008 study in Los Angeles public schools found that those who didn’t pass algebra by ninth grade were half as likely to graduate as those who did.



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