Debunking Math Myths

  • Curriculum
  • Math
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog


Gec Washman - Carroll’s mythological guru whose name is a loose acronym for “give each child what she or he most needs” - is surprised to recently learn that Carroll has failed to communicate successfully about our students’ math performance. Because we emphasize the language aspects of the Carroll program to such a huge extent, perhaps we have delivered the message that math is less important to us. Gec seeks to dispel that rumor in today’s blog.

The Truth about Math at Carroll School

We all know that each student has a set of unique skills and challenges. But what our data shows is, as a whole, Carroll students perform better on standardized tests of math than they do on reading standardized tests. In fact, Carroll students collectively make more progress in math than their peers in conventional schools. That is, they close the gap.

What makes assessment of math programs tricky is this shared view that there is a sequence that occurs in math education. That is, most parents think that third graders should master addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Parents of 8th graders think their child is supposed to be taught algebra. Such explicit markers do not exist in English Language Arts, science, social studies or the arts.

Nonetheless, Gec’s job today is to explain the essence of Carroll’s approach to math education and to reveal how Carroll children are performing.

Myths about Carroll’s Math Programs

Myth #1- Children with dyslexia are good at math. Indeed, some are. At Carroll, many are. Yet some of the same obstacles that make reading hard also make math hard for some of our students. For example, a child with difficulty hanging onto memorized information and accessing that information under pressure (on demand) will often have difficulty regardless of whether she is in math or language or science or at the family dinner table. Evaluators of student performance (psychologists) have a tendency to under-assess and, therefore, under-describe the extent to which math is also affected by a child’s learning profile.

Myth #2- Children at Carroll fail to make adequate progress in math. We assess student performance four times annually on a nationally standardized assessment called “Track My Progress.” In fact, this year’s eighth graders reveal dramatic progress over the past two school years. Specifically, when they were in sixth grade, 75% of these students scored at or below the 33rd percentile on their math assessment. As eighth graders, 75% of them score above the 33rd percentile and many score above the 50th percentile.

Myth #3- Carroll hasn’t put much thought into its math curriculum. Perhaps the more accurate statement is that Carroll hasn’t marketed its math program as deliberately as it should have. Because there is no prefabricated math textbook series that is designed for our type of learners, we have assembled a curriculum of best practices that combine to form our math curriculum. Carroll’s math program is based on the Singapore Math scope and sequence of topics and activities, especially in the Lower School. The Middle School curriculum is consistent with the Singapore program and was developed by an educator who is now the math department chair at Shady Hill School.

Core principles of our approach to math include: making the abstract visual, hands-on representations of math concepts, attaching meaning to number operations, logical reasoning, student engagement, and central Carroll principles of structured, sequential, systematic, multisensory, and cognitive instruction.

Myth #4- Carroll students aren’t on grade level in math. The reality is that this belief misconstrues the essence of how Carroll teaches everything. The soul of a Carroll education is to deliver to each child what she or he most needs. We know that our goal is to get each child to grade level (or better) performance in every subject area. We determine what each individual needs diagnostically, and then we prescribe what instruction is most important. In so doing, in the long run, children become capable math students. This is exactly the same approach in math than Carroll is praised for in language arts instruction. Grade level instruction is always in our minds as we plan, but it is not the driver. Carroll’s approach is remarkably consistent with the recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Myth #5- Carroll students leave Carroll unprepared to handle high school math. Our data simply don’t support that statement. In fact, we are aware that for most Carroll alumni, math grades are a strength in their profile. It is also true that students who struggled with math at Carroll tend to continue to struggle after Carroll. Logically, then, students who thrive in math at Carroll tend to continue to thrive. As pointed out in Myth #3, more and more students are graduating from Carroll with math scores at or above grade level.

  • Curriculum
  • Math



Recent Posts

Looking at School Through the Lens of a New Parent
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog

In anticipation of presenting to our new parents, I sent out a brief survey to our new families to learn of their hopes, dreams, anxieties, fear, and questions. Seven philosophical statements about what we believe about education framed the survey and opened parents up to discuss some profound thoughts. What we received back was a primer on how to help families adjust to their new reality at Carroll School.

End of the Year Student Assessments: Good or Bad?
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog

Something is wrong with the way a school year ends. Typically, as May and June roll around, American education puts students into high-stakes tests, takes kids on an obligatory field trip, struggles to hold down the fort, becomes frustrated that everyone’s not being their best selves, and expresses relief that the whole darn thing is over. Is this the best way to conclude nine months of learning and growth?

School Diversity: Building Stronger Human Communities
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog

People tend to misunderstand why schools engage in diversity work. Is it to increase the number of people of color in a school's community? Is it to do the politically correct thing? Steve Wilkins talks about why it's important to look (and work) at diversity in order to build a better, stronger Carroll School.