Algebra: A Challenge at the Crossroads of Policy and Practice

Document Type


Publication Date



The authors review what is known about early and universal algebra, including who is getting access to algebra and student outcomes associated with algebra course taking in general and specifically with universal algebra policies. The findings indicate that increasing numbers of students, some of whom are underprepared, are taking algebra earlier. At the same time, other students with requisite skills are not given access to algebra. Although studies using nationally representative data indicate strong positive outcomes for students who take algebra early, studies conducted only in contexts where all students are mandated to take algebra in eighth or ninth grade provide mixed evidence of positive outcomes, with increased achievement when policies include strong supports for struggling students. The authors conclude with a call for studies that examine the relationship among algebra policies, instruction, and student outcomes to understand the mechanisms by which policies can lead to success for all students.