Ensuring Equity and Excellence in Mathematics

Ensuring Equity and Excellence in Mathematics

Although the goals of equity and excellence in education sometimes appear to clash, in mathematics education they converge on a single focal point: heightened expectations.

Is it acceptable for a student to finish school and not be able to read? No.

Is it acceptable for a student to finish school and not be proficient in Math? Of course not.

Even though these two questions are easy to answer when asked, the implications, when put into practice are very difficult. Why?

When students enter our classrooms, they are all different. They require different instructional approaches that must be provided by their teacher. So, as stated earlier, in practice this is a very difficult task for teachers and schools. However, it is one as an educator we must confront if we expect all students to be proficient in Math.

All students, regardless of race, ethnic group, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location, age, language, disability, or prior mathematics achievement, deserve equitable access to challenging and meaningful mathematics learning and achievement. This concept has profound implications for teaching and learning mathematics throughout the school community. It suggests that ensuring equity and excellence must be at the core of systemic reform efforts, not only in mathematics but in education as a whole.

Educators and community members are beginning to recognize that most students, including a disproportionate number of women, minorities, and the poor, leave school without the mathematical skills they need to thrive in an increasingly complex, global economy. A tradition of low expectations, changing workforce needs, economic necessity, and shifting demographics call for unprecedented reform in mathematics education. Responses to this call for reform have created this push for more rigorous state standards and assessments.

Equity doesn’t mean that every student should receive the same instruction, instead, it demands that reasonable and appropriate accommodations be made as needed to promote access and attainment for all students.”

The purpose of differentiating instruction is to engage students in instruction and learning in the classroom. All students need sufficient time and a variety of problem-solving contexts to use concepts, procedures, and strategies and to develop and consolidate their understanding. When teachers are aware of their students’ prior knowledge and experiences, they can consider the different ways that students learn without pre-defining their capacity for learning.

Teachers can help students achieve their potential as learners by providing learning and consolidation tasks that are within the student’s “zone of proximal development.” The zone of proximal development, a phrase coined by the psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, refers to the student’s capacity for learning. Technically, it is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”. Identifying the student’s zone of proximal development is of paramount importance if Differentiated Instruction is to achieve its maximum impact.

According to John Van de Walle, a key element to the advancement of deep student understanding in mathematics is finding appropriate entry points for students into the content. To make sure that students are provided those entry points without the expectation for their performance being compromised, the indicators for this focus area assess on the opportunities students are provided to work with the content from concrete, relational, and abstract perspectives, the types of interventions implemented, the purpose of the interventions, and the support provided specifically around learning the language of mathematics.

Students are most engaged and achieve success when instruction is appropriately suited to their achievement level and needs (Stronge, 2002). A key element to the advancement of deep student understanding in mathematics is finding appropriate entry points for students into the content. To make sure that students are provided those entry points without the expectation for their performance being compromised, the indicators for this focus area focus on the opportunities students are provided to work with the content from concrete, relational, and abstract perspectives, the types of interventions implemented, the purpose of the interventions, and the support provided specifically around learning the language of mathematics.

With the more rigorous state content and process standards, it can be inferred that mathematical instructional strategies used by teachers are intended to help all students to become confident, self-directed problem solvers with a conceptual understanding of mathematics.

These best practices for mathematics instruction are covered within the following Teach n’ Kids Learning (TKL) online self-paced courses for teachers.

  1. Teaching Mathematics With Rigor and Results, Grades 3-10
  2. Developing Mathematical Expertise in a Problem-Centered Classroom, Grades K-12
  3. Preparing Students For More Rigorous Math Assessments, Grades 3-10
  4. Developing Students’ Mathematical Habits of Mind, Grades K-12
  5. Strategies for Assessment-Driven Differentiated Instruction, Grades K-12
  6. Differentiated Instruction Driven by Assessments (Foundations)