Students who take Algebra II are much more likely to succeed in college than those who don’t. If more students took that course, more people would successfully graduate from college, so the thinking goes.

And because of that, the United States is in the midst of a real drive to make Algebra II mandatory. According to an article by Peter Whoriskey in the Washington Post:

Of all of the classes offered in high school, Algebra II is the leading predictor of college and work success, according to research that has launched a growing national movement to require it of graduates.

In recent years, 20 states and the District have moved to raise graduation requirements to include Algebra II, and its complexities are being demanded of more and more students.

The snag is that this might not really work. The fact that Algebra II is the leading predictor of college success doesn’t actually mean that Algebra II makes someone able to succeed at college.

Raising graduation requirements to include that one math class doesn’t so far seemed to have done much to improve college completion. As the article points out, Arkansas has been enthusiastic about Algebra II. Last year it started to require the course for high school students and administered a state test to assess students’ proficiency in that mandatory class. Only 13 percent qualified as “prepared” or better.

The fact that Algebra II is the leading predictor of college success probably has to do with the fact that in most places the sort of people who want to go to college take Algebra II.

Requiring everyone to take the course won’t make everyone succeed in college. The people who are good at Algebra and have ambition to succeed in college (those 13 percent) will do well in the course. Students forced to take the course because of state law will not do well in college, or even in Algebra II. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer