Why Teaching Grade Level Math Doesn’t Work for Below Grade Level

I often encounter well-meaning teachers and parents trying to help math students by forcing grade level skills on below grade level learners. This is a mistake, as students, especially those with learning disabilities, don’t learn that way.


Teachers are forced to do this by legislation and school district guidelines. It’s not their fault. And parents are usually just trying to help fill in gaps or do what the teacher asks, often shooting blindly in the dark.




Kids need to be taken back to square one to fill in math gaps before being asked to do difficult problems.

The idea is that every student should be in the same place at the same time. This is ludicrous! Every child is different and has a different math level. Every brain is different and learns in unique ways.


Years ago, in the early 1990’s, teachers were highly trained in differentiating instruction. This means that we understand children are at different ability levels and we teach them accordingly. For instance, in a fifth grade classroom, a teacher might have three students at a first grade level, six at a third grade level, and four at a high school algebra level. The rest might fall somewhere in between.


So, to teach effectively, the teacher provides instruction and assignments at each individual level.

Somewhere along the way, this has changed and I have no idea why. It doesn’t make sense that a student working at a first grade level could possibly understand or master fifth grade math skills.

You see, math is sequential. You must have A to get to B. B to get to C. And C to get to D. You don’t get to just slide through the levels and hit D with mastery.


Yet, that’s what our education system is expecting of our students. Is it any wonder that our kids are failing math at a rapid rate? And all too often, parents and teachers want to help by drilling these poor children with math lessons and expectations at a level that’s too high for them to accomplish with success.


If your child is struggling in math, you need to take him/ her back to his her ability level then fill in missing learning gaps. There are free online math placement tests that can help you decipher what exact level your child is on. Mammoth Math


To help your child, find the exact level that he/she is working at. From there, teach the applicable skills by modeling, guided practice, independent practice, and evaluation. When you’re sure that your child has mastered the skill, then move on to the next.


Often, students who struggle in math are weak in visual and auditory memory skills, which makes it difficult to memorize and retain math facts and lengthy steps. You can research ways to strengthen these skills, or check out my Learning Success Blueprint for ready made exercises and activities that will strengthen these crucial micro-skills.

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