Hyper-Acceleration of Algebra I: Narrating Opportunity to Learn from a Situative Perspective



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With increased access to Grade 8 Algebra I in school divisions across the United States, high-achieving students are hyper-accelerating their study of Algebra I to Grade 7. This further acceleration becomes not only a mathematical pursuit but a social expectation as students strive to distinguish themselves from their peers and to improve their competitiveness for admission to elite universities. These students are often deemed successful from a content perspective of opportunity to learn (OTL) which relies on test scores and course taking as metrics of high achievement in secondary mathematics. Yet hyper-acceleration of Algebra I becomes a marker of smartness and status which may diminish opportunities to build foundational mathematics understandings and productive beliefs about mathematics. This dissertation study synthesizes retrospective narratives of college students’ lived experiences with hyper-acceleration of Algebra I to create compelling descriptions of OTL across six years of secondary mathematics. Using a narrative inquiry methodology from a hermeneutic phenomenological perspective, I layered three narrative analysis techniques to interpret the shared stories of 15 recent graduates from one mid-Atlantic high school. The following research question guided this study: How do recent graduates from one International Baccalaureate (IB) high school within a socioeconomically diverse suburban school narrate their opportunities to learn after hyper-acceleration of Algebra I? The first article within this manuscript-based dissertation is a research commentary which maps the phenomenon of hyper-acceleration back to broader acceleration of Algebra I to Grade 8. I advocate for research on OTL in this emergent context from a sociocultural perspective. Hyper-acceleration should motivate and empower mathematically promising students. It may instead introduce the potential to reify existing societal power structures and to devalue meaningful mathematics experiences in a potentially misguided and growing “race to calculus”. The second article in this dissertation offers a situative research lens on teaching and learning in hyper-accelerated secondary classrooms. By explaining the what, how, and why of their mathematics experiences, these students help us to better understand how hyper-acceleration may augment or diminish access to meaningful learning. Their adult stories of common middle and high school pathways illuminate a culture and context framed by narrow definitions of what it means to be “good” at mathematics. The students’ mathematical identities of competence, bestowed by selection for Grade 7 Algebra I, evolved as their smartness in mathematics was either affirmed or challenged. Interpretation of these storied identities provides an empirical examination of acceleration policies, equitable access to advanced mathematics learning, and persistence on rigorous mathematical pathways. The third article in this dissertation focuses on the experiences of three hyper-accelerated girls who decelerated their mathematics course-taking trajectories on their pathways toward majoring in STEM fields. Their gendered stories of OTL from a situative perspective were constructed using syllogisms enthymemes as a form of persuasion. These logical arguments about girls and hyper-acceleration revealed a sociocultural interplay of acceleration as an educational advantage and mathematics as a masculine discipline in cultural discourses. The results of this study can inform the design and implementation of hyper-acceleration policies by parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators. By describing student perspectives on the quality of teaching and learning in these emergent mathematical figured worlds, I offer important empirical evidence of longitudinal beliefs that hyper-accelerated students hold about themselves as productive doers of mathematics. Their narrated identities should spark critical conversations about who has access to this educational advantage and what it means to succeed in secondary mathematics.