More Schools Requiring Algebra II

Imaginary numbers and relevancy to real life aside, taking Algebra II in high school is one of the leading predictors of success in college and beyond. Because of this, more states and school districts are beginning to require it for graduation.

Movement Grows

A national movement to ensure all high school students take Algebra II is growing. Lead by a group called Achieve, which is made up of governors and business leaders, the push for Algebra II has grown to include 20 states and the District of Columbia. Members of Achieve believe that the requirement is necessary to boost lagging college graduation rates and to improve the skill level of the America workforce.

Effect Isn’t Totally Clear

But improving the quality of the workforce by simply raising high school graduation requirements isn’t all that clear cut. Though Algebra II seems to predict future success, it could be that the students who take the course are simply smarter and more motivated than those who choose not to. Some educators worry that by making it mandatory for graduation will encourage more students to drop out of high school, which would defeat the purpose.

Arkansas’ Example

An example of the double-edged sword of Algebra II is Arkansas. Last year, the state became one of the first to require it for most students and to test for outcomes. What they found, however, was that only 13% of the students were considered “prepared” or better at the end of the school year. Arkansas insists that they will not lower their new standards in the wake of such a poor showing.

Research Says

Although studies have shown that of top tier job holders, 84% had taken Algebra II in school compared to just 50% of bottom tier job holders, the researchers who discovered this warn that Algebra II was just one of many factors involved.

Anthony Carnevale, who conducted the study along with Alice Desrochers, believes that the cause/effect link between Algebra II  and later performance is weak at best. He cautions against using it as a quick fix. Student achievement and eventual success in the workplace are the result of many pieces falling into place, and a single math course shouldn’t be given that much weight. After all, as Carnavale points out, people don’t actually use Algebra II in college or in the workplace.


Indeed it is the lack of relevance that makes Algebra II such a difficult class for many high school students to take and teachers to teach. Schools correctly worry that forcing more students to take the course will have the opposite effect that the Achieve group is hoping for in the long run.

What Do You Think?

My high school Algebra teacher, Sister Wilfred, constantly extolled the virtues and benefits of mastering her cherished subject, but even my old friends who went on to become doctors and engineers assure me that it never comes up in their real lives — ever.

Did you take Algebra II? Do you use it? Have you ever needed it? Is it, in your opinion, a solution to the dropping college graduation rates in the U.S. or the alleged workplace skills crisis? Let’s hear your thoughts and stories.


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Photo credit: Algebra II by raindrops


M.N. J.
M.N. J2 years ago

Honestly, I think a person could learn to program a computer, become an accountant or lawyer of other professional, own her own business, and otherwise achieve markers of "success" without taking second-level algebra.

I disagree that algebra isn't useful in the "real world," since it is a formal expression of the ways we puzzle out the solution to the "story problems" that make up most of our need for real-world math.

I feel more distressed, though, at learning that many schools no longer teach what was once called "social studies" or "civics" classes, or, in other words, the basics of government and good citizenship. I think those classes are needed for a well-rounded education and a successful nation.

Jo S2 years ago

Thanks Ann.

ERIKA S4 years ago

thank you

Joe R.
Joe R5 years ago

Math is good for the brain!

Ellie Damann
.6 years ago


Marilyn J L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

Admittedly it was years ago, but I didn't get enough math in HS & ended up having to fill that void in college before I could go on to complete my Chemistry/Math double-major. Math supports logical & critical thinking -- skills which we are increasingly lacking in today's society. We need to reinforce math and the sciences to regain our position in creativity & innovation -- two critical elements to economic growth and societal problem solving. We are slipping in our role as world leader, but, at this point, can yet restore it. Let's do.

Tania Morse
Tania M6 years ago

I assumed that all schools required a minimum of Algebra II in order to graduate. I took it, as my high school required, but math has never been my strong point. Before registering at my community college, all students were required to take a test that gauged their math and English abilities. Based on the results, we were told which math and English courses we had to take to fulfill our general education requirements for graduation. I tested as 'complete' in English, meaning I tested at or above the requirements for graduation. In math, however, I was forced to take two more classes to finish. These two classes, collectively, were the equivalent of high school Algebra II.

I completed my Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice nearly two years ago. Since my last math class over three years ago, I have not used anything I 'learned' in Algebra II, whether the high school or the college classes. In fact, if I was to take the test that I took at my community college, I'd likely test into Algebra II again.

I understand that some believe higher level math classes are necessary to encourage the development of critical thinking skills. I disagree. The same skills could also be attained with certain English or communications courses. I think an option among these courses should be allowed for those students who may not enjoy math as much or struggle greatly with it.

Aimee Polekoff
Aimee Polekoff6 years ago

Algebra II was the first math class that wasn't easy for me. I still got a B, but it kinda scared me away from math... But I'm surprised there are kids who never take it. I took it in 10th grade, and there weren't many other choices. Since math was required, Algebra II was just the next math to take after geometry (in 9th grade). I don't think it was required in and of itself. The school just assumed you'd take it sometime or other, because even if you weren't in honors (like me), you'd take it 11th grade, or 12th grade if you were really far behind! Maybe it's because my school district made calculus 2 the highest math you could take, so algebra 2 seemed pretty basic in comparison....

Olena L.
Olena Lukonina6 years ago

Algebra is basic math, there is nothing extremely challenging about it and even though it is not used in real life it is a basis for calculus(so difficult but so needed, so practical). And if you're not pursuing higher education in sciences, algebra is still good for you because it trains your brain. Running on a treadmill or doing push-ups are not practical activities but they keep your body fit, solving math problems keeps your brain fit.

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

Sorry about my typos, I was so angry that so much focus is being placed on math instead of courses that could possibly prove more meaningful, that my fingers ran away with me.