College Bound in Middle School and High School?: How Math Course Sequences Matter

By Neal Finkelstein, Juliet Tiffany-Morales, Patrick M. Shields

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Research shows that success in high-level mathematics in high school predicts postsecondary success and careers in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Similarly, students academic successes in middle school can determine their performance in high school.

This study, produced by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, explores the connection between mathematics achievement in middle school and high school to better understand the degree to which students stay on the path toward postsecondary STEM study and, if students veer off the trajectory, to better understand when and why.

Some key findings:

  • Seventh-grade math performance predicts high school math course taking
  • Continuing to take more advanced math classes each year does not help students who are already not proficient in math in the seventh grade
  • Few students who repeat algebra become proficient on their second attempt
  • Districts are aware of poor student performance in math and less aware of course-taking patterns
  • Districts know they must improve algebra outcomes

The report concludes with a set of considerations for state and local policymakers and education leaders.