Skip Navigation

Follow us on:

Ask A REL Response

March 2017


What research has been conducted on a "Grade 8 Algebra for All" policy?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on teacher professional development. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of professional development on teacher performance and student outcomes in K-12 education. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Domina, T., McEachin, A., Penner, A., & Penner, E. (2015). Aiming high and falling short: California's eighth-grade algebra-for-all effort. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(3), 275-295.
    From the abstract: "The United States is in the midst of an effort to intensify middle school mathematics curricula by enrolling more 8th graders in Algebra. California is at the forefront of this effort, and in 2008, the state moved to make Algebra the accountability benchmark test for 8th-grade mathematics. This article takes advantage of this unevenly implemented policy to understand the effects of curricular intensification in middle school mathematics. Using district-level panel data from all California K-12 public school districts, we estimate the effects of increasing 8th-grade Algebra enrollment rates on a 10th-grade mathematics achievement measure. We find that enrolling more students in advanced courses has negative average effects on students' achievement, driven by negative effects in large districts."
  2. Domina, T., Penner, A. M., Penner, E. K., & Conley, A. (2014). Algebra for all: California's eighth-grade algebra initiative as constrained curricula. Teachers College Record, 116(8), 1-29.
    From the abstract: "Background/Context: Across the United States, secondary school curricula are intensifying as a growing proportion of students enroll in high-level academic math courses. In many districts, this intensification process occurs as early as eighth grade, where schools are effectively constraining their mathematics curricula by restricting course offerings and placing more students into Algebra I. This paper provides a quantitative single-case research study of policy-driven curricular intensification in one California school district. Research Questions: (1a) What effect did 8th eighth grade curricular intensification have on mathematics course enrollment patterns in Towering Pines Unified schools? (2b) How did the distribution of prior achievement in Towering Pines math classrooms change as the district constrained the curriculum by universalizing 8th eighth grade Algebra? (3c) Did 8th eighth grade curricular intensification improve students' mathematics achievement? Setting: Towering Pines is an immigrant enclave in the inner-ring suburbs of a major metropolitan area. The district's 10 middle schools together enroll approximately 4,000 eighth graders each year. The districts' students are ethnically diverse and largely economically disadvantaged. The study draws upon administrative data describing 8th eighth graders in the district in the 2004-20-05 through 2007-20-08 school years. Intervention/Program/Practice: During the study period, Towering Pines dramatically intensified middle school students' math curricula: In the 2004-20-05 school year 32% of the district's 8th eighth graders enrolled in Algebra or a higher- level mathematics course; by the 2007-20-08 school year that proportion had increased to 84%. Research Design: We use an interrupted time-series design, comparing students' 8th eighth grade math course enrollments, 10th grade math course enrollments, and 10th grade math test scores across the four cohorts, controlling for demographics and prior achievement. Findings/Results: We find that students' odds of taking higher level mathematics courses increased as this district implemented the state's Algebra mandate. However, even as the district implemented a constrained curriculum strategy, mathematics achievement growth between 6th sixth and 10th grade slowed and the achievement advantages associated with 8th eighth grade Algebra declined. Conclusions/Recommendations: Our analyses suggest that curricular intensification increased the inclusiveness and decreased the selectivity of the mathematics tracking regime in Towering Pines middle schools. However, the findings suggest that this constrained curriculum strategy may have may have unintended negative consequences for student achievement."
  3. Eddy, C. M., Quebec Fuentes, S., Ward, E. K., Parker, Y. A., Cooper, S., Jasper, W. A., Mallam, W. A., Sorto, M. A., & Wilkerson, T. L. (2015). Unifying the Algebra for all movement. Journal of Advanced Academics, 26(1), 59-92.
    From the abstract: "There exists an increased focus on school mathematics, especially first-year algebra, due to recent efforts for all students to be college and career ready. In addition, there are calls, policies, and legislation advocating for all students to study algebra epitomized by four rationales of the "Algebra for All" movement. In light of this movement, there must be a clear consensus about what is taught in the name of algebra. Yet, researchers documented this is not the case. The present research proposes to unify the leading algebra standards and assessment framework documents to identify the key ideas of algebra. The analysis resulted in six key ideas: (a) Variables, (b) Functions, (c) Patterns, (d) Modeling, (e) Technology, and (f) Multiple Representations. Outlined is the research process and resulting unification of existing algebra framework documents, and consideration is given for its uses in educational policy regarding algebra and potential directions for future research."
  4. Morgatto, S. F. (2008). Should all student be required to take algebra? Are any two snowflakes alike? Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 81(5), 215-217.
    From the abstract: "In this article, the author explores the "algebra for all" issue to raise awareness about the many facets of this dilemma facing educators at the middle and high school levels. She discusses both sides of this controversial issue, especially regarding its impact on students' futures relative to higher education and employment. The author concludes that unless dramatic reform occurs in the delivery of algebra so that all students benefit from such instruction, students must make the decision to take algebra based on individual needs, interests, and desires."
  5. Nomi, T., & Raudenbush, S. W. (2014). Algebra for all: The effect of algebra coursework and classroom peer academic composition on low-achieving students. Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness.
    From the abstract: "Algebra is often considered as a gateway for later achievement. A recent report by the Mathematics Advisory Panel (2008) underscores the importance of improving algebra learning in secondary school. Today, a growing number of states and districts require algebra for all students in ninth grade or earlier. Chicago is at the forefront of this movement. Many low-achieving students took remedial math before 1997 and the algebra-for-all policy immersed these students in academic coursework for the first time. Moreover, these low-achieving students experienced a rise in the ability levels of their classroom peers. However, this study suggests that simply requiring algebra is insufficient to improve their outcomes, even though students may benefit from having higher achieving peers in their classrooms. Overall, taking Algebra, instead of remedial math, would have no significant effect and this may be because students lack sufficient skills to handle algebra. Chicago subsequently implemented double-dose algebra to address this problem, and research showed that offering extended instructional time and instructional supports to teachers was successful in improving algebra learning of low achieving students (Nomi and Allensworth, 2009; 2010). Table and figures are appended."
  6. Spielhagen, F. R. (2006). Closing the achievement gap in math: Considering eighth grade algebra for all students. American Secondary Education, 34(3), 29-42.
    From the abstract: "Should all students study algebra in eighth grade? Would offering early access to algebra to all students help close the achievement gap among minority populations? Traditional educational policies that provide eighth grade algebra to selected students raise questions about equitable access to advanced opportunities for all students. Even when access appears to be equitable throughout a school district's population, undetected lapses in equity may occur related to identification procedures. This study addressed the problem of achievement gaps among underrepresented populations by examining the study of algebra in eighth grade and its impact on student performance, achievement, and attainment. The purpose of this study was to explore the policy implications and potential benefits of providing algebra instruction to all students."
  7. Spielhagen, F. R. (2010). Algebra for everyone? Student perceptions of tracking in mathematics. Middle Grades Research, 5(4), 213-223.
    From the abstract: "This research explored the experiences of students in a school district that limited early access to the study of algebra and to inform education policymakers of the impact of such tracking policies on the lives and futures of the students. Quantitative analysis had already yielded a snapshot of inequities deriving from the policies surrounding placement in 8th grade as well as significant benefits deriving from that placement. Subsequent interviews with students provided a vital portrait of the faces behind this analysis. The candid and reflective interviews with these graduating seniors suggest that 8th-grade mathematics experiences impacted their academic and social experiences as well as their future plans. Regardless of their group, the students concluded that the policy of assigning students to algebra in the 8th grade was based on developmental behaviors, like study habits and self discipline, rather than on cognitive ability. Students in both groups criticized the school's emphasis on the state's standardized tests and regarded those tests as basic and minimal. The students also chronicled the long-term effects of studying 8th-grade algebra in 8th grade, primarily the academic benefits of the type and number of mathematics courses afforded early algebra students. According to students in both tracks, algebra instruction for all students in eighth grade would level the playing field and open the gates to advanced study for those students who choose to take advantage of those opportunities. Providing algebra to all students, with additional academic and institutional support if necessary, would diminish the disparity of outcomes and promote more equitable opportunities for all students. (Contains 2 tables.)"

Additional Organizations to Consult

American Mathematical Society (AMS) -
From the website: "To further the interests of mathematical research, scholarship and education, serving the national and international community through publications, meetings, advocacy and other programs. The goals of the AMS are as follows:

  • Promote mathematical research, its communication and uses
  • Encourage and promote the transmission of mathematical understanding and skills
  • Support mathematical education at all levels
  • Advance the status of the profession of mathematics, encouraging and facilitating full participation of all individuals
  • Foster an awareness and appreciation of mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and everyday life

Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) -
From the website: "The Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) is the largest professional organization devoted to the improvement of mathematics teacher education-it includes over 1,000 members devoted to the preservice education and professional development of K-12 teachers of mathematics.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) -
From the website: "The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is the public voice of mathematics education, supporting teachers to ensure equitable mathematics learning of the highest quality for each and every student through vision, leadership, professional development, and research."

Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research -
From the website: "The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) is dedicated to supporting state education leaders in their efforts to grow, respect, and retain great teachers and leaders for all students. The GTL Center continues the work of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (TQ Center) and expands its focus to provide technical assistance and online resources designed to build systems that:

  • Support the implementation of college and career standards.
  • Ensure the equitable access of effective teachers and leaders.
  • Recruit, retain, reward, and support effective educators.
  • Develop coherent human capital management systems.
  • Create safe academic environments that increase student learning through positive behavior management and appropriate discipline.
  • Use data to guide professional development and improve instruction."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Algebra for all, Grade 8
  • Grade 8 algebra for all policy

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2001 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.