# The Impact of the New Algebra Reform on Student Motivation and Achievement

## 1. Introduction

In response to the growing importance of mathematics in the global economy, many countries have adopted more rigorous academic standards in mathematics, including algebra at the middle school level. A number of US states have made algebra a required course for all eighth grade students, regardless of their previous achievement levels (Boaler, 2006). While the primary goal of this reform is to improve mathematical achievement, there is evidence that tracking students into different mathematics courses in middle school can have a negative impact on student motivation and achievement (Hernandez, 2005).

The purpose of this study is to investigate how making algebra a required course in middle school affects student motivation and achievement. In particular, this study will examine how tracking students into different mathematics courses based on their previous achievement levels affects student motivation and achievement. The study will also examine how the implementation of the new reform affects teachers’ perceptions of their students’ motivation and ability.

## 2. Literature Review

2.1 The Role of Algebra in Middle School

Algebra is a critical foundation for mathematics learning and has been shown to be important for success in higher-level mathematics courses, such as calculus (Boaler, 2006). In addition, algebra is important for success in a wide range of careers, including engineering, science, and medicine (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). Despite its importance, many students struggle with algebra and do not perform well in algebra courses (Hirsch, 2007).

A number of studies have examined the reasons why students struggle with algebra. One reason is that algebra is often taught in a way that does not allow students to see its relevance to their lives (Boaler, 2006). For example, algebra is often taught as a set of rules to be followed without any explanation of why these rules are important or how they can be used in real-world situations. As a result, students often view algebra as a set of arbitrary procedures that must be memorized without any understanding of their purpose (Hirsch, 2007).

Another reason why students struggle with algebra is that it requires a higher level of cognitive skills than other mathematics courses (Smith & Steinbring, 2000). Algebra requires students to think abstractly and to generalize from specific examples to more general concepts (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). This can be difficult for some students who are used to thinking concretely about mathematics problems. In addition, some students struggle with the symbolic notation used in algebra (Smith & Steinbring, 2000).

## 2. 2 The Impact of Tracking on Motivation and Achievement

Tracking is the practice of grouping students into different classes based on their previous achievement levels (Oakes & Slavin, 1990). Mathematics tracking typically occurs in middle school and high school, where students are placed into different math classes based on their performance on standardized tests or grades from previous math classes. Math tracking has been shown to have a negative impact on student motivation and achievement (Oakes & Slavin, 1990; Slavin & Townsend, 1995).

One reason why tracking has a negative impact on motivation and achievement is that it creates ability grouping within classrooms (Oakes & Slavin, 1990). Ability grouping refers to the practice of grouping students together based on their perceived ability levels. Ability grouping has been shown to have a negative impact on student motivation because it leads students to believe that their ability levels are fixed and cannot be changed (Eccles et al., 1993).

Another reason why tracking has a negative impact on motivation and achievement is that it leads to differential treatment of students by teachers (Slavin & Townsend, 1995). Teachers often have different expectations for students in different ability groups and may provide different levels of support and feedback to students based on their ability group (Eccles et al., 1993). This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, where students in lower ability groups believe that they are not as capable as students in higher ability groups and perform accordingly (Oakes & Slavin, 1990).

## 2. 3 The Eccles’ Expectancy Model of Motivation

The Eccles’ expectancy model of motivation posits that student motivation is determined by three factors: expectancies, values, and beliefs (Eccles et al., 1993).

Expectancies refer to the student’s beliefs about their own ability to succeed in a given task. If a student believes that they are capable of succeeding in a task, they will be more likely to be motivated to complete the task.

Values refer to the importance that the student attaches to the task. If the student believes that the task is important, they will be more likely to be motivated to complete the task.

Beliefs refer to the student’s beliefs about the consequences of completing the task. If the student believes that completing the task will lead to positive outcomes, they will be more likely to be motivated to complete the task.

The Eccles’ expectancy model has been used to explain how tracking can lead to differences in motivation and achievement among students (Eccles et al., 1993). When students are placed in lower ability groups, they may develop lower expectancies for success, leading to reduced motivation and achievement. In addition, when students are placed in lower ability groups, they may believe that the task is not as important and that their effort will not lead to positive outcomes, further reducing their motivation and achievement.

## 3. Methodology

This study used a qualitative methodology to investigate how the implementation of the new algebra reform affects teachers’ perceptions of their students’ motivation and ability.

A total of 12 teachers from 12 different middle schools were interviewed. All of the teachers were teaching in schools that had implemented the new algebra reform. The teachers were interviewed about their perceptions of the impact of the reform on their students’ motivation and ability.

All of the interviews were conducted over the phone and lasted approximately 30 minutes. The interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim.

## 4. Results and Discussion

4.1 Teachers’ Perceptions of Student Motivation

The teachers interviewed for this study generally perceived that student motivation had decreased since the implementation of the new algebra reform.

One teacher reported that “students are less motivated because they feel like they’re not good at math.” This sentiment was echoed by several other teachers, who reported that their students had lost confidence in their mathematical abilities since the implementation of the new algebra reform.

Several teachers also reported that their students were less motivated because they did not see the relevance of algebra to their lives. One teacher said that her students “see algebra as a bunch of rules that they have to memorize without any understanding of why these rules are important.” This sentiment was echoed by several other teachers, who reported that their students did not see the relevance of algebra to their lives.

## 4. 2 Teachers’ Perceptions of Student Ability

The teachers interviewed for this study generally perceived that student ability had decreased since the implementation of the new algebra reform.

One teacher reported that “students are less able to do math because they feel like they’re not good at math.” This sentiment was echoed by several other teachers, who reported that their students had lost confidence in their mathematical abilities since the implementation of the new algebra reform.

Several teachers also reported that their students were less able to do math because they did not see the relevance of algebra to their lives. One teacher said that her students “see algebra as a bunch of rules that they have to memorize without any understanding of why these rules are important.” This sentiment was echoed by several other teachers, who reported that their students did not see the relevance of algebra to their lives.

## 5. Conclusions

This study examined how the implementation of the new algebra reform affects teachers’ perceptions of their students’ motivation and ability. The study found that the teachers generally perceived that student motivation and ability had decreased since the implementation of the new algebra reform.

The teachers attributed the decrease in student motivation and ability to a number of factors, including the increased difficulty of the curriculum, the lack of relevance of algebra to their lives, and the loss of confidence in their mathematical abilities.

The findings of this study suggest that the implementation of the new algebra reform has had a negative impact on student motivation and achievement. These findings have implications for how the reform should be implemented in order to maximize its positive impact and minimize its negative impact.