Different schools have different philosophies about how to teach math. They may also have their own unique performance measurements and definitions of what it means to be “on track” in math. It’s important for you as the parent to understand how and why your child’s school teaches and assesses students’ math performance. Connect with your school to ensure the math success of your child — and every child in the school.
Is your school using high-quality instructional materials in the classroom?
EdReports, a nonprofit that publishes independent, teacher-led reviews of textbooks, makes it easy to look up your school’s math curriculum and see how it stacks up against other schools. If you don’t know what curriculum your school uses, contact your school’s principal or math specialist. Here are key questions you can ask:
- How is the math curriculum chosen?
- How long ago did the school begin using the current one? Why was the previous provider changed out?
- Is the principal aware of the EdReports rating? Have they seen issues arise related to those highlighted by the reviewers?
- Along the way, did they ever consider any of the highly rated, research-backed curricula, such as Eureka Math or the online program Zearn? Why or why not?
In addition, you can also ask what math supplements your school offers. Is there tutoring or homework help? Family math nights? An after-school math club? Online resources? All of these elements support a robust environment where the love of math and mastery of the subject are priorities.
Kids aren’t the only ones who get report cards. All states and districts are required to have one. Each report card, issued by every state’s Department of Education, contains an overview of how well schools are doing, and includes information on education spending, student achievement, teacher qualifications and graduation rates — information that’s useful in determining how to best help and support your child.
To learn more about your school’s performance, check our handy map of all 50 states and D.C.
We know the load on teachers is great, especially when students in one classroom span three or four grade levels of skills. But in a cumulative subject like math, we have to serve students content that they can digest, master and build upon. Otherwise, they can never advance. Moreover, if students have mastered content, they shouldn’t sit through content they already know. Otherwise, they will never stay engaged.
There are two ways that schools can quickly pivot to meet these goals – with the school leadership’s blessing.
- Small groups: No matter the curriculum used, teachers can break students into groups of similar achievement levels. Those who master a lesson immediately can explore the topic more deeply, e.g. with larger numbers, more levels of operations, or best of all, hands-on experiences that tap all styles of learning, e.g. Fun Factor. This gives other groups more time to catch up on mastery of the main content.
- Productive homework: Homework’s purpose is not to punish or to bore. Its purpose is to ensure mastery through practice – at the right quantity and level of challenge. Since all kids have unique mastery levels, then by definition they don’t all need the same homework.
Students who end the day on unsteady footing need additional attention (e.g. guidance from a parent or tutor) or supplemental resources, e.g. Khan Academy and other online videos, before they can succeed on the day’s assignment. Meanwhile, students who achieve complete mastery should be assigned just one or two questions to cement understanding, perhaps along with a preview of the next topic to stoke curiosity.
Have you noticed that kids spend about 1,200 hours a year in school, but about 5,000 waking hours outside school? That’s more than four times as many hours as spent in class.
We can all give kids their math wings through the many programs outside school that offer greater math challenges. Look into these options and ask your school to promote them with other interested students:
- Crazy 8s Club is the nation’s largest in-person after-school math club for kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. Unlike competition math, this free kit offers high-energy math activities for kids of all abilities. Click here to learn how to launch a club.
- Girls Who Code offers free programs targeting students in grades 3-5 and 6-12 who want to explore coding in a fun and friendly environment. The logic behind coding ties right in with the math of Venn diagrams, and the use of variables trains algebraic thinking. Click here to bring them to your school.
- Center for Talented Youth out of Johns Hopkins targets high-ability students hungry for more challenge. Students who qualify through testing can attend a 3-week intensive course in a multitude of subjects – most notably math! – hosted at more than 20 college campuses. Click here for your child to apply and ask your school to alert other likely candidates.
- FIRST Robotics is a program for students in grades pre-K through 12th grade. Students form teams to build innovative robots from scratch. While it emphasizes engineering, the mechanics — the angles, wheel rotations and so on — hinge on math. Click here to launch a team.
For all our struggles to boost math achievement, one approach consistently gets research-backed results: tutoring. Whether one on one or in small groups, the extra time and attention allows tutors to spot students’ specific gaps and work on them. In fact, high-dosage tutoring produces an average gain equivalent to 19 weeks of instruction. Many states including New Jersey and Tennessee have created statewide tutoring corps so schools can recruit tutors easily. And schools in every state have been flooded with federal funding to pay for tutors. This is a doable solution for any school.
Tutoring can take place after school, but research has shown it’s even more powerful when done during school hours, when students are present and focused on academics. There’s also a larger pool of potential tutors than in afternoons when more people are busy with their own families. Ask your school what it is doing to implement tutoring, so your child and others can take advantage of this proven intervention.