Most Ninth Graders Proficient in Understanding Algebraic Expressions, Study Finds

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—About 86 percent of ninth graders were proficient in understanding algebraic expressions, according to a new study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and conducted by RTI International.

Of those, 18 percent were proficient at understanding systems of equations and 9 percent were proficient at understanding linear functions, both of which are more advanced topics within algebra.

The study, funded by the National Center for Education Statistics, reports initial findings from the base year of the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), a new longitudinal study that started with a nationally representative sample of more than 21,000 ninth graders in the fall of 2009.

Plans are to conduct periodic follow-up surveys of these students as they continue to pursue their education and enter the workforce.

The base year data focus on students' transitions into high school, especially their decisions about courses and plans for postsecondary education and careers. The study captures these decisions, plans, expectations and activities generally but also specifically in math and science.

Other study findings include:

  • Half of America's ninth graders took Algebra 1 (51 percent) and 22 percent took geometry.
  • Of students whose parents hold a master's degree or higher, 44 percent were in the top quintile of math performance and 5 percent in the bottom quintile. Of students whose parents have earned a high school diploma or equivalent, 15 percent were in the top quintile and 24 percent were in the bottom quintile of performance on the assessment.
  • More female ninth graders than male ninth graders expect to obtain a graduate or professional degree (44 percent versus 35 percent).
  • More socioeconomically advantaged ninth graders expect to earn a graduate or professional degree than their peers in the lowest socioeconomic stratum (56 percent versus 27 percent).

The National Center for Education Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences is part of the U.S. Department of Education.

To view the full report, visit