Without a strong understanding of algebra, many students find later math studies challenging, particularly in light of pandemic learning loss - high-dosage tutoring may help

5 ways to help students struggling with algebra due to learning loss

Without a strong understanding of algebra, many students find later math studies challenging

Key points:

Since the pandemic, students have struggled markedly in math, particularly algebra. According to NAEP Mathematics Assessment data, eighth-graders’ algebra scores were eight points lower in 2022 than in 2019. According to the Nation’s Report Card, the average eighth-grade mathematics score was lower than all previous assessment years—going back to 2003.

As a gateway content area, algebra prepares students to tackle advanced study in calculus, physics, and other subjects—yet it often is a sticking point for many middle and high school students. Without a solid understanding of algebra, many students find that they get stuck in their math studies.

To help, here are five tips to help students who are struggling with algebra right now:

1. Encourage open and honest communication. Much of the commentary about learning loss leaves students out of the conversation. Students feel the effects of interrupted learning, and that they are committed to overcoming those challenges.Students’ openness about their struggles aids in their academic growth. When they feel comfortable asking questions or saying they don’t understand something, they demonstrate a mindset that they are genuinely motivated to learn.

2. Provide encouraging support. “I’m just not a math person.” This is a phrase teachers hear a lot—and sometimes even unwittingly reinforce. Students are discouraged when they perceive that others around them instinctively understand a difficult concept, and they may resign themselves to the notion that they simply never will. In truth, mastery is a journey, and students travel at their own pace. Tutors can use scaffolding to identify roadblocks and turn them into speed bumps, and can employ Socratic questioning to help students figure out answers themselves. As students achieve incremental understanding, celebrate every win.

3. Focus on the most challenging areas. When students seek help in algebra, they’ve most likely gotten stuck on linear equations. That is—and has historically been—the most-requested topic area within this most-requested subject. Linear equations are essential for describing relationships between variables and for predicting trends. When a student doesn’t grasp linear equations, that student cannot advance in math and related disciplines. With that challenge comes an opportunity, though: once a student achieves understanding of linear equations, the learner unlocks doors to many other disciplines—particularly in emerging and growing fields such as nurse practitioner, data scientist, information security analyst, statistician, and web developer.

4. Offer help around the clock. Tutoring data shows that 15,355 K–12 algebra tutoring sessions were initiated between 11:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. in 2022. This means many students stay up late or rise early to work on algebra problems. When algebra tutoring is available 24/7, students do opt to connect day and night. Students are most likely to seek algebra tutoring on weekday evenings. While after-school evening hours are the most-requested times for algebra tutoring, students—and teachers—also utilize the service during the school day. About one-third of K–12 algebra sessions take place during school hours. In-school tutoring provides an important opportunity for teachers to offer individualized, differentiated support to multiple students at once.

5. Adopt high-dosage tutoring. A research-based learning solution, high-dosage tutoring helps students make significant, accelerated learning gains in key subjects. In contrast to on-demand tutoring, high-dosage tutoring is characterized by frequency of sessions (three or more times/week), relational interactions with tutors, and small groups of up to four students.

Adopted as part of a multi-tiered system of support, high-dosage tutoring enables K–12 schools and districts to provide scalable, equitable support for all students. As we anticipate the positive impact of high-dosage tutoring, we expect to see well-earned gains and boosted student confidence leading into 2024 and beyond.

6 keys to effective tutoring
Progress toward academic recovery stalled in 2022-23

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