“Intermediate Algebra Must Die!” … I said this at two recent meetings (first at a conference, then at my college). The need for this demise is ‘over-determined’, to use a social science phrase: several factors, each of which would be sufficient, are present to create a conclusion with multiple rationales from different perspectives. #IntermediateAlgebra #AlgebraicLiteracy #NewLifeProject

The first rationale for the necessary demise of Intermediate Algebra comes from data concerning preparation for ‘college math’ (most often college algebra or pre-calculus). The CCRC and ACT both have discontinuity regression research showing that intermediate algebra does not prepare students. [See the first part of my presentation on Algebraic Literacy at http://www.devmathrevival.net/?p=2331.] The most optimistic results show a 2% to 5% gain in pass rates after an intermediate algebra course compared to students with similar backgrounds; of the 4 data sets, 1 had this very small positive result … 2 have ‘null’ (no gain), and 1 has ‘negative’ (students do worse after intermediate algebra, compared to similar students who did not).

The second rationale for the necessary demise of Intermediate Algebra comes from the policies about degree requirements at our institutions. At hundreds of institutions, students can meet a general education requirement for a degree by using the remedial math course called ‘Intermediate Algebra’. This policy makes two horrible statements at once: first, that we don’t think it is important for students to learn additional mathematics; second, that we don’t think students have sufficient abilities to learn additional mathematics. We are not just accommodating negative perceptions about learning mathematics, we are reinforcing them.

The third rationale for the necessary demise of Intermediate Algebra comes from its origins: Intermediate Algebra was copied from the high school curriculum during a period when procedure and repetition were emphasized (in reaction to the original ‘new math’) in a design based on low standards for teacher credentials (the thought was ‘make it teacher-proof’). This origin of the course is clearly related to the data referenced above; however, this rationale is based on the contradictory nature of the course compared to any set of modern curricular standards (as in Common Core, or even the original NCTM standards). Intermediate Algebra is a professional embarrassment.

The last rationale for the necessary demise of Intermediate Algebra comes from the politicization of developmental mathematics: as long as we are teaching ‘high school courses’, policy makers are going to attack our curriculum in colleges. These stakeholders do not see why they should pay a second time for the same treatment, and many do not see any appropriate benefit from the course. This rationale, like the third, suggests that all traditional developmental mathematics be removed ASAP and replaced (to the extent needed) by modern courses designed for college use (such as the New Life Project courses, Mathematical Literacy and Algebraic Literacy). A course being “pre-college” does not mean “high school”.

We need to ‘own our problem’; for too long, we have continued our weak copies of weak high school courses to stand in the way of actually preparing students. We have taken the easy road, sometimes creating a significant revenue source for our colleges, when we should have focused on our students’ needs in college. We have reinforced the “I can’t do math” belief, and sold our profession short. We have placed our entire curriculum at risk by requiring many students to take high school courses in college.

Intermediate algebra must die!

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