Schools Offer Plenty of Resources for Reading, But Struggle to Provide Effective Math Support

When Cindy Apple first started her career as a special education teacher at Broadmoor 3-5 Elementary School in Louisburg, Kansas more than two decades ago, students who needed math assistance were placed in “pull-out groups” at the end of math class. The fragmented assistance provided by aides often slowed down the learning process, merely rehashing the same problems.

Apple noted that this unsystematic approach, delivered by untrained staff, did not target the missing skills required for improvement. The assistance mainly involved going through assignments again without addressing the core issues.

In 2018, the same year that Apple assumed the role of principal at Broadmoor, Kansas introduced a statewide system to support students in reading and math. Grounded in evidence, this system utilized student testing data to identify missing skills and determine the type and level of support required, ranging from whole-class instruction to personalized tutoring.

Apple leveraged this new framework to meticulously review the school’s entire math teaching approach, including standards, curriculum, and support for struggling students. This systematic and detailed reassessment led to significant improvements in student test scores across all grades, such as the noticeable increase from 60% to 80% passage rate for third-grade students.

While Broadmore’s structured approach to math assistance has yielded positive results, it deviates from the prevailing practice in schools nationwide. Although most schools have established methods to address reading issues, math support remains lacking in many.

The disparity in math assistance often stems from state policies. Many states do not mandate schools to offer support for struggling math students, unlike the requirements for teacher training and support plans for reading in numerous states.

Districts that have embraced multi-level frameworks for assisting struggling students are more inclined to implement them for reading rather than math. Recent studies have shown the disparity between reading and math framework adoption in elementary schools, indicating a persistent imbalance in addressing math challenges.

The ongoing focus on reading has overshadowed the urgency of bolstering math instruction, despite the significant student population facing math struggles in schools across the country.

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