“When you look at the data, there’s something not working, clearly,” she said. “And if you know being on track in ninth grade is key to a student’s success then it’s our obligation to change that.”

She said the district will be strengthening the quality and consistency of algebra instruction across schools so that courses in each school approach the class the same. After the district’s review of high school curriculum is complete, the ninth-grade algebra requirement and graduation requirements could change.

Like Madison, districts across the state are looking at ways to improve rates at which students pass algebra and are also developing new curriculum that includes algebraic concepts as early as kindergarten, said Department of Public Instruction spokesman Tom McCarthy.

Signe Carney, who has taught math at Memorial High School for 18 years, said part of the reason for the algebra failure rate is that “people are OK with saying, ‘I’m bad at math,’ and they will never say they can’t read. People think they can or can’t, and if they think they can’t, they won’t succeed.”

Another factor is that algebraic concepts build on each other, so it’s hard to catch up if students miss days, she said.

Related:

What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement? by James Wollack & Michael Fish @ UW Center for Placement Testing.