Indiana High School Student Regains Confidence in Math Skills

Jania Thomas, a 17-year-old senior at BELIEVE Circle City High School in Indianapolis, excelled in math until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The shift to online learning posed challenges for her, resulting in a lag of two years in her math knowledge. Thomas shared, “Because of COVID, I had to learn so many things on my own, especially in my ninth-grade year.”

Despite these difficulties, Thomas remained resilient and motivated. She has already earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech Community College and has applied early decision to top-ranked schools like Columbia University. Her experience reflects a national trend of students struggling with math. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported significant declines in math scores for fourth and eighth graders, with the largest drops ever recorded.

The pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities, particularly for Black students. Indiana, where Thomas resides, witnessed alarming outcomes for Black students on state exams. As a response, Indiana’s NAACP released the Indiana Black Academic Excellence plan to address deep-rooted inequities.

Last year, only 5% of Black 10th-graders in Indianapolis passed both math and English sections of the state’s tests. This highlights the broader issue of a majority of Indiana students struggling to meet minimum math standards, with only 41% of students in grades 3-8 scoring proficient or better on the state’s ILEARN exam.

Educators and advocates in Indiana and across the country are searching for solutions to make math more relevant and engaging, especially for low-income children and students of color. They are re-evaluating requirements and offerings, providing multiple pathways instead of solely focusing on calculus, a course whose value is being questioned even for STEM-oriented students.

Thomas attends BELIEVE, where she is one of 300 students, a majority of whom are children of color, and nearly all qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. She is currently excelling in Advanced Placement Statistics and plans to continue studying math in college while pursuing her interest in journalism, education, and law. She aspires to fight against inequality in the American system and believes understanding math is crucial for tackling financial concepts and societal challenges.

Thomas is determined to provide support to struggling students and plans to start a tutoring program. She wants to maintain a growth mindset and continually learn and apply knowledge to make a positive impact. Thomas has ambitious educational goals, aiming to obtain multiple degrees, including at least one doctorate, and become an informed educator.

While concerned about the financial aspects of higher education, Thomas is actively seeking scholarships and support from her school. She plans to apply for as many scholarships as possible during her senior year and throughout college.

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