Starting in three years, California will be the first state to test all its eighth graders in advanced math, the state Board of Education decided amid pressure from the U.S. Department of Education.

California already requires students to take Algebra I, but students who are not ready take lower levels of math. Under this new decision, though, students will have to enroll in the class, even if they're not prepared, in order to take the standardized test.

Math has been a struggle for many students in the Mountain View Whisman School District, and for the last two years teachers and administrators have been working to improve low test scores, especially among low-income Latino students.

In an effort to assess basic math skills, about 200 eighth graders in the district, who were not all enrolled in Algebra I, took the California standardized tests in algebra for the last two years. In 2007, only 35 percent scored proficient or above, leaving the remaining 65 percent at the basic or far below basic levels.

The district is not the only one facing challenges under the new ruling — statewide, only 38 percent of students scored proficient.

"We don't have enough kids who are ready to succeed in algebra," Assistant Superintendent Mary Lairon said.

This year a new district math committee identified lack of consistency in curriculum and time spent on math as key problems explaining, in part, the discrepancy in math scores. One teacher was found to be spending only 15 minutes a day on math, for example. As a result, second through fifth grade teachers are now required to spend 90 minutes on math.

Lairon said even with the Algebra I decision, administrators are more concerned about preparing students with the building blocks for math, and less concerned with testing.

"The issue is getting more kids ready for algebra," Lairon said.