Tracking students into algebra: Predicting placement and analyzing the policy effects of early access to algebra

Frances Calabretta Spielhagen, Fordham University


This study examined the policy issues surrounding early access to algebra in a school district that provided algebra instruction to some students in 8th grade. Two basic questions drove this research. First, did any discernible pattern emerge in the background and experiences of those students granted early access to algebra versus those who waited for 9th grade? Second, did it make any difference in terms of achievement that some students studied algebra in 8th grade while others had it in 9th grade? Data analysis focused on potential differences in algebra achievement, indicated by state standardized tests and the Stanford 9 Mathematics Test. Analysis also involved in-depth exploration of the background of the two treatment groups (i.e., those who studied algebra in 8th grade versus those who studied it in 9th grade. Analysis of the bifurcated dataset ranged from simple descriptive methods to more complex modeling (i.e., regression and endogeneous switching techniques). Logistic regression analyzed the composition of the 2 treatment groups, and ANOVA compared within-group performance with between-group performance. Multiple correlation techniques determined the interconnections of all the variables, from personal background information to outcome data. Multiple regression analyzed the effects of the predictor variables on the Stanford Math posttest, administered after 8th grade. Simulated “endogenous switching,” using 2 separate Heckman selection models, characterized the different performance equations of Grade 8 Algebra 1 students versus the Grade 9 Algebra 1 students. Descriptive statistics examined the 11th-grade course selections of students to determine the attrition rate for each group as well as the types of courses taken. Tracking students into 2 separate treatment groups does not have strong support from the analysis of the data in this study. Group membership did not guarantee higher achievement but in fact reinforced existing achievement patterns. The findings revealed that prior achievement determined membership in the early access Grade 8 Algebra 1 group, but prior achievement was also a strong predictor of achievement regardless of group placement. The results of this study provide support for districts that are seeking to promote equity by offering algebra to all students in the 8th grade.

Subject Area

School administration|Mathematics education|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Spielhagen, Frances Calabretta, "Tracking students into algebra: Predicting placement and analyzing the policy effects of early access to algebra" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3056159.