Our school has an unusual policy concerning students who fail math classes. If a student fails a math class, the next year she/he is put into the subsequent class anyway. For example, if a student fails Algebra 1 in 9th grade, that student is assigned to Geometry in 10th grade. If the student again fails Geometry in 10th grade, he/she goes on to Algebra 2 in 11th grade.

I understand that one reason to let students move on instead of retaking a class is that it can be very discouraging to have to take a class over again. There are students who are in that situation–I know if I were in the 12th grade taking Algebra 1 for the fourth time, I would really hate math. Algebra 1 has become a huge sinkhole in California: passing it is a requirement for graduation, so many resources are thrown at Algebra 1 from every possible angle and the pressure for students to do well is commensurately higher.

However, it seems to me that our school is relieving itself of the responsibility to properly care for a student that fails a math class. By putting a student into the subsequent class, that teacher then has to deal with a student who has serious gaps in his/her mathematical knowledge. In this situation, the chances that the student fails math again is higher.

California requires that every student must pass at least two years’ of math to graduate. So, by passing students on regardless of their grade in a math class, the burden of making up those credits falls on the student and the the student’s family. The student either has to take summer classes (which are unlikely to be available in this season of severe budget cuts) or go to adult school to make up those credits.

Update: During a recent faculty meeting, I learned that the reason for disallowing students from repeating a class they’ve failed is that there is no room in our master schedule. I don’t understand this. If there are enough students who fail Algebra 1, for example, why can’t these students be put into another section of Algebra 1 with a different teacher/curriculum?

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Virginia has the same policy. The kids I mentor had spent years failing elementary school, and they’d learned that the point of school was to be genial and to endure. Everyone was going to pass, so the sense of satisfaction was completely dissociated from the sense of accomplishment. Ugh. That took a couple of years to break.

This is a terrible policy. Now you end up with a huge pile of kids in Algebra 2 who don’t know Algebra 1, and since a good teacher takes the kids they’re dealt, the Algebra 2 course becomes Algebra 1 all over again. Woe to the student who knows the Algebra 1, they’re in for a year of boredom, while the failing kids get what they would have had anyway if they failed. And it’ll be even tougher for them to actually pass the later courses. What the hell, man. Sending a student to Algebra 2 after two years of failing… what expectation does that student have to succeed, and what expectation does the teacher have for them to succeed? (Is there a number small enough to measure this?)

In my opinion, failing Algebra 1 students should retake Algebra 1 -with a different curriculum- so that it doesn’t feel exactly the same. Kid failed using Core Plus? Okay, give ’em Glencoe, or Carnegie, or just some other experience.

I also don’t understand how you can say that Algebra 1 is a requirement for graduation, but so is two years of math. Does that mean A1 plus another course? Or does a pre-Algebra count?