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  • Writer's picturemrsstunes

Falling Behind in Math

Lately in education-related news, it seems like I have seen the same headline on repeat, "Kids Are Behind in Math Because of COVID-19" or "Data Finds Students Falling Behind in Math During Pandemic". Even long before the pandemic, I witnessed the emotions of those students labeled "behind". In fact, in Arizona, the term students would often see on their standardized test results was "falls far below". Ouch. Being "behind" in math might feel significant. How significant is it, though? When you look at our American public education system, it's quite inflexible. It has to be when you consider the limited teachers and limited desks. Therefore, we draw lines on a calendar, and group kids together who fall between those lines, with little consideration of their passions, struggles, values, or life experiences. The educational bureaucracy decides what skills that all of America's 13 year old students should have when they enter eighth grade. This is perhaps one of many reasons why nearly four million students and their families have chosen to homeschool; seeking a more individualized approach to education.

I suggest a paradigm shift in the way we discuss levels of mathematics. From my perspective, there is no grade-specific math, there are simply scaffolded levels of math that students can achieve, whether they are 9 and ready for a pre-algebra class or 85 and wanting to tackle calculus. Without knowing a student's individual college and career goals, I would be hard pressed to label any child behind in math. Consider the scenario: Lily is an eighth grade student. Lily takes a placement test, and it shows she is at a 7th grade math level. Lily isn't necessarily “behind”. So long as she is motivated and does the coursework, then she is learning. That’s what counts. She's doing a hard thing, and doing hard things is how we grow. Shaming students for not being at an "arbitrary" level of mathematics seems counter-productive.

As adults, we need to build confidence in our youth and meet them where they're at. Forget “behind". Keep encouraging them forward. They’ll get to where they’re going. It reminds me of a quote I recently saw on a teacher friend's social media page, “Popcorn is prepared in the same pot, in the same heat, in the same oil and yet…the kernels do no pop at the same time. Don’t compare yourself to others. Your time to pop is coming.” – Unknown

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