Other Voices: Regarding ‘Algebra I testing mandate is not a realistic solution’ | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Regarding ‘Algebra I testing mandate is not a realistic solution’

In my opinion, Paula Campbell’s negative opinion regarding the California State Board of Education’s position requiring proficiency in Algebra I, or similar courses, of all eighth-graders in the state, is precisely correct. Her opinion piece appeared in The Union July 23.

I would like to add a few insights to her position. The people making broad, brush-stroke decisions about all eighth-graders don’t know much about 13-year-old youngsters, the teaching of those students, or much about the age group as a whole.

Teaching this group basic math skills used in everyday life is hugely important and will serve them a lifetime. Expecting all of them to master the abstractions of algebra is quite another dimension in the broader scope of education.

I would suggest that the main reason algebra is taught at all except for the very talented and mature students, is because university academicians rest their opinion on tradition. To matriculate into college, one needs to have taken algebra. That branch of math does have its place. It teaches logic, the need to follow basic rules, and the ability to think in the abstract. I would guess that about eight to 10 million professionals in the U.S. use algebra in various occupations on a daily basis. And that estimate might be generous.

When was the last time you actually used algebra? Be careful. Your pharmacist, physician, accountant, airline pilot, building contractor and banker use basic arithmetic most of the time; they mainly to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and keep the decimal point in the right place.

I know I’m being simplistic. I treasure academics, its pursuits, and what they have provided in my life. I really believe in taking a student into the world with as much broad and deep knowledge as he or she can muster.

I think Paula Campbell is on track for a couple of reasons. She knows her child. Intuitively, she has figured out that her child and many other eighth-graders are still maturing physically and mentally. So, what’s the big hurry? A year or two of time and growth can make a huge difference in a child’s academic abilities. My position on this subject rests on 38 years in elementary education – 21 of those years with eighth-graders. Having evaluated, studied, and taught thousands of 13-year-old students, I’m quite certain of which Paula Campbell and I speak.

Bill Gallagher lives in Grass Valley.

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