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The Impact of Equitable Access on Student Math Achievement

This blog was originally published on K20Connect

A review of current state assessment data post-pandemic found that most states have less than 50% proficiency in math across the country. Inequity was pointed out in several states' report card data. In California, 84% of Black and 79% of Hispanic students were not proficient in math. Maryland’s School Report Card indicated that Hispanic and Latino students are more impacted than others. Chicago reported that not one single student was proficient in math at 55 schools, while Minnesota had 19 schools with zero students proficient in math. Ohio found proficiency rates are highest in suburban and lowest in urban areas in grades 4 and 8. The litany of information regarding the failure to teach math to children of color is an issue that must be addressed across the country.

The math wars may be heating up, resulting in it becoming the central focus of math rather than on changes to close the inequity gap. In discussions with one of my peers on math, we wondered how universities and states were currently using technology to help close that gap. Many disparities in math performance on standardized assessments remain evident. Some of these disparities include: 

  • Race/ethnicity: Black and Hispanic students tend to score lower on math assessments than white and Asian students.

  • Socioeconomic status: Students from low-income families tend to score lower on math assessments than students from high-income families.

  • English language learner status: English language learners tend to score lower on math assessments than native English speakers.

  • Disability status: Students with disabilities tend to score lower on math assessments than students without disabilities.

And many factors contribute to disparities in math education, including access to quality education, home environment, parental involvement, how math is taught in different schools and districts, and bias in standardized assessments. Educational leaders can address these disparities by focusing on equitable access to quality education and providing communications to parents on math instruction, especially English language learner parents. Of course, reviewing standardized assessments for equity and bias is always a good idea. Addressing these disparities in math performance can significantly impact students' future opportunities. Students who score well on math assessments are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and get good jobs.

A recent study suggests both black and Hispanic students demonstrate a lower percentage of advanced math learners than white or Asian students by the time they are in kindergarten. The racial gap is so significant in math education that state departments have established equity initiatives. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has a document for advancing equity in math on its website. The North Dakota Regional Education Lab Central has created a Partnership for Accelerating Math Achievement by meeting students where they are. West Virginia “math4life” is a statewide initiative to improve the math performance of all students.

Some states are revising and adopting new state standards, like Georgia. Texas will be realigning the STAAR state assessment to be taken online and making accelerated instruction mandatory for all students not passing the assessment through after-school tutoring and summer school. In contrast, the NJ legislature has passed the High Impact Tutoring initiative.

Students may be disadvantaged when they enter kindergarten. Still, state plans for progress in math education are designed to move them into high mathematics by addressing equity and providing extended opportunities for learning math and practice so they can be in Algebra I by the time they are in 8th grade. A key partner in many of these initiatives is technology. States nationwide are launching programs using technology to close the inequity gap recognizing that technology can provide additional assets for learning and allow for extended practice. Let’s focus on closing the gap by addressing equity instead of regressing to the math war.

Kecia Ray

About the Author

Dr. Ray is an award-winning administrator with a track record of transforming large urban districts. Harvard University and the U.S. Department of Education recognized her work in Nashville, and her most recent projects include consulting with the New York City Department of Education and Los Angeles Public Schools to pivot to blended learning in response to the global pandemic. She serves the South Carolina Department of Education coaching schools and districts and leads a community forum and consulting network, K20Connect, along with other passion projects.


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