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  • Joanne Jacobs

Middle-school math is a disaster

Disrupted learning's effect on middle-school math skills is worse than you think, writes David Wakelyn on The 74. "As many as 1 million students who met college and career-ready math standards in third grade are now off track."

The average student in third through eighth grade lost half a year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading, according to NAEP data on learning losses.


But tracking the same students from grade to grade shows that grim estimate is too optimistic.


Wakelyn looks at Washington state, but the trend holds up across the country.


"The average decline in middle school achievement is 16% in math and 4% in English among the same groups of students," he writes. The decline started before the pandemic.


Middle school students "need to master fractions and decimals, which predicts their math achievement for the rest of high school," Wakelyn notes. "If students don’t learn fractions well, the ramp that leads from arithmetic up to algebra becomes a wall." Students may just give up.

What do do? Educators are talking about moving toward mastery learning and providing more time to learn math, known as "double dosing." However, implementation is a challenge, he writes. Furthermore, "even the best guides on making up unfinished learning lack advice on how to help math students who are three or more years behind."

Kevin Mahnken offers 14 charts showing Covid's impact on students, teachers and schools, including the decline in math skills.


Students who learn less math will earn less money in their working lives, predict economists Douglas O. Staiger and Thomas Kane. "Based on the historical correlation between math gains on NAEP and professional earnings growth, the figure they reached was astounding: $900 billion of future earnings, if the declines in learning were to remain permanent for all students in the United States."

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