Why do so many students struggle with math?

Math is the most requested subject for tutoring

Math has a reputation for being a difficult subject, and this perception among students isn’t helpful. Since math is a subject that builds on skills learned from grade level to grade level, if a student starts lagging behind early, it becomes more difficult to catch up when the math gets harder.

A recent article from the Christian Science Monitor discussed the still lingering effects of the pandemic and school shutdowns on student performance in math. “Across the country, schools are scrambling to catch up students in math as post-pandemic test scores reveal the depth of missing skills. On average, students’ math knowledge is about half a school year behind where it should be, according to education analysts.”

Coupled with that, many schools are also grading more leniently because of the pandemic learning loss, and there are now many students graduating and entering college without the basic math skills they should have. Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools recently said, “Higher grades are being awarded for less achievement in our schools, which helps hide our students’ struggles since the pandemic. Combine that with teachers unions pushing for fewer accountability measures, and the needed push for academic excellence withers.”

Colleges and universities are reporting that students are “struggling to grasp fractions and exponents. More students are being placed into pre-college math, starting a semester or more behind for their majors, even if they get credit for the lower-level classes.”

George Mason University in northern Virginia has started a Math Boot Camp “because of alarming numbers of students arriving with gaps in their math skills.”

Jessica Babcock, a Temple University math professor, said the problem was clear to her as she graded quizzes in her intermediate algebra class. One problem on the quiz was to subtract 8 from negative 6. “I graded a whole bunch of papers in a row. No two papers had the same answer, and none of them were correct,” she said. “It was a striking moment of, like, wow — this is significant and deep.”

Start early to fix the problem

Progress is possible in upper grades, said Sarah Powell, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin whose research focuses on teaching math. But she said it’s easy for students to feel frustrated and lean into the idea that they’re not a “math person.”

“As the math gets harder, more students struggle,” she said. “And so we need to provide earlier intervention for students, or we also need to think in middle school and high school, how are we supporting students?”

Boot camps, math coaches, summer programs, after-school programs, adding instructional hours and tutoring are all ways to help students build a solid math foundation. Utilizing a variety of interventions, parents can identify which ones are the most beneficial.

TutorUp can help

Parents interested in one-on-one math tutoring for their student, working with a certified teacher with classroom teaching experience may find the right tutor with TutorUp.