Is Your Child Falling Behind in Math? The Repercussions Could Be Worse Than You Realize

American children who are behind in math tend to stay behind in math throughout their academic career.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.


Remedial math needed in college

It is a shocking fact that in America today, while more and more high school graduates move on to college, many of them discover that they cannot immediately start taking college level classes.  They find out they need remedial work in English, math, or both, to prepare for the credit bearing courses they will need for their degree.  Depending on the state, anywhere from 10% to 49% of all first time college students are immediately placed in remedial courses.  In 2014 the California University System recommended remediation for 40% of their incoming students. 

Remedial classes cost money

In New York City, the cost of this “remediation tax” was recently estimated to be $63 million.   And while a public school education is paid for by taxpayers, no such universal entitlement exists for college.   Prerequisite remedial classes cost money, and can even add additional living expenses.  Students in private colleges are spending an average of $12,000 to complete remedial work.  And, even besides the financial factor, the failure to come to college fully prepared has lasting effects.  

Students are failing to graduate on time 

Consider these statistics:

  • The average college graduation rate in the U.S. is slightly under 55%.

  • At Michigan State University, only 48% of students graduate within 6 years!

  • At the University of Arizona, only 34% of students graduate within 6 years!

  • When they need remediation, students are 75% less likely to finish their degree at all.

Finally, lack of a degree has a profound impact on a person’s lifetime earnings, not to mention the ability to simply repay student loan debt.

When it starts

Issues of college readiness can begin long before high school graduation.  When a child struggles in the early years, they rarely catch up.  According to the national testing group ACT, “students who have fallen far behind academically in 4th and 8th grade have less than a 1 in 3 chance of being ready for college or a career by the end of high school”.  These statistics may seem bleak but they are even more serious given the fact that the student population measured is not the general population.  The American College Testing organization was only counting the students who have actually taken their test.  So, they are only measuring college bound students who should be stronger than average academically to begin with. 

Obviously strong groundwork in grade school and middle school is needed for kids to do well in high school.  Children need to know their letters before they can read.  Kids need to be proficient in the basics such as multiplication before they can conquer algebra.  Early math fluency is in particular is crucial – it has been shown to more strongly predict later academic success than even reading skills. 

What can parents do to keep their kids from falling behind?

Regardless of where they go to school, or what teachers they have, parents are crucial to a child’s success.  And math competence in particular is essential to long term academic success.  Without a foundation in basic skills, kids can’t learn higher level abstract math.  Kids don’t only develop math skills in the classroom.  Parents can go a long way with kids in math.  For example, they can:

Involve kids in math adults come across every day: 

  • Measuring ingredients for cooking

  • Counting change

  • Estimating the time needed to complete a household chore

  • Telling time

  • Dividing a cake or pizza into fractions

  • Comparing prices in the supermarket

Read books that make math fun, such as:

Play games that are fun but also teach skills

Games can help kids understand a variety of math concepts, such as positive and negative numbers and counting in groups of tens.   Here are some games that make math fun for kids: 

Guess Who – concept of process of elimination

Chutes & Ladders – group of 10 number system

Qwirkle – strategy & pattern recognition

Escape Medusa’s Rage – concept of positive & negative numbers



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