More Vineyard students are entering high school on the path to doing college-level math, the result of an Islandwide program offering algebra to eighth grade students.

Island educators say the new algebra program, piloted in Edgartown last year and offered in all schools this year for the first time, prepares students for higher level math and brings the Island in line with other schools around the country. About 40 students are participating in the program.

“It’s the result of a lot of hard work over the years trying to get algebra in the eighth grade,” assistant superintendent Matthew D’Andrea told the regional high school committee last week. “It allows kids to have more math, and more in-depth math. I think we’ve made some good strides in that.”

Oak Bluffs teacher Eve Heyman: “Not everybody is ready in eighth grade, but for kids in that area, it really meets their needs." — Ivy Ashe

Algebra was initially offered as an after-school enrichment class, then added as a half-year program for eighth graders. Last year a full-year pilot program launched at Edgartown School, which led to the Islandwide program this year. Students must test into the program in seventh grade.

“Most other schools in the country have an eighth grade full year of algebra,” said Edgartown principal John Stevens. “We at the school felt it was important to move in that direction.” Five students were in the pilot last year; there are now eight new students in the school’s eighth grade algebra class.

Other schools have similar numbers. There are seven algebra students in West Tisbury, 10 in Oak Bluffs, and 11 in Tisbury.

“The interest is to push the math rigor up, and the kids do respond,” Oak Bluffs principal Richard Smith said. “They do very well; they’re such hardworking kids. It’s that feeling of, let’s do as much as we can to offer the kids more,” he added.

West Tisbury principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt agreed. “I think when we see it actually come to fruition in the students graduating here . . . we’re going to see a much more smooth path for them to maintain a high level of academic performance in math,” she said. “Overall, I think it’s going to be a better trajectory.”

Offering the higher-level math at an earlier grade allows students more flexibility in their high school schedules. Students who take algebra earlier are able to move directly into advanced geometry in high school. This puts them on track for Advanced Placement calculus courses as seniors.

Island educators said offering algebra earlier can help students stay on a higher math track in high school with less pressure. — Ivy Ashe

While reaching AP calculus has always been feasible for entering freshmen, the track to get there featured a two-year program that packed in three years of math.

“Even for kids where this is the area they shine in . . . it’s demanding,” Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt said.

Regional high school guidance director Michael McCarthy said the ultimate goal is to open up more avenues to calculus; he credited honors math and geometry teacher Ken DeBettencourt and calculus teacher Doug DeBettencourt for managing the math program changes.

“We’ve been a work in progress and I think we’re progressing,” Mr. McCarthy said.

“Not everybody is ready in eighth grade, but for kids in that area, it really meets their needs,” said Eve Heyman, who teaches seventh and eighth grade math at the Oak Bluffs School. Ms. Heyman has been teaching algebra since the first pilot program.

The program is also better aligned with state-mandated testing. This year instead of the MCAS test, Vineyard students will take the PARCC test, school districts have decided, in part because the test is tied to the federal common core standards. PARCC offers an algebra-only math test for eighth-graders.

Tisbury school principal John Custer said the algebra program will have a “pretty significant trickle-down effect” for other grades at the schools, with seventh graders tackling more pre-algebra work, and younger grades also preparing to move into higher math. It’s an effect he’s seen both as a principal and as a parent — his daughter Isabelle is now in the Tisbury School’s algebra class.

“She loves her teacher, she loves the class, and she loves math,” Mr. Custer said. “Ultimately, I think the kids will benefit.”