Promoting Equity in Mathematics

From the little bit that we talked about equity in class, I realized that I did not know exactly what this word meant or how it applied in schools. I thought that equity was creating same lessons and teachings and giving all students the same opportunity; however, after reading Carly’s blog, I understood that it is way more than that, so I set out to find an article to better inform me about what equity was and how to promote it in our classrooms. The article I found was

Promoting Equity in Mathematics: One Teacher’s Journey

Alan Tennison
        The first thing in this article that stood out to me was the definition of educational equity as “the concept that all students, regardless of their personal characteristics, backgrounds, or physical challenges, must have opportunities to learn mathematics. Equity does not mean that every student should receive identical instruction” (page 28).  It was nice to see a definition laid out for me so that I could actually learn what equity is.
        One huge problem that schools have today is that they place students into classrooms based on how the teachers perceive their abilities. This is hard because there is no right or wrong way to do it and students get placed into the wrong groups because they are not test takers or they are very quiet or other outside factors that do not deal with their intelligence level. Then these students are in these “low-track classrooms” where the curriculum is easier, the teachers are less experienced and the other students in the classroom are less-engaged. This creates a great divide among students in the low-track and the high-track and the low-track students have little to no hope of ever catching up with the high-track students.
        The overwhelming issue that this article talked about was that once students are tracked into lower achieving classes, the expectations go way down and the material seems useless to the students. Personally, it makes sense. If I was a student that the school deemed “low-achieving” and I was put into a math class where I had to re-learn the material that I did not master well enough the prior years, it would be a lot easier to give up and not try as hard.
        The author then discusses how he tried to change this by ending tracking in his school and making it so that all students had the same expectations. The result of this was that the students attitudes changed and they cared more about mathematics. He began to use problem-based learning that incorporated many different math concepts and students could now make connections as to when they would ever use the topics in real life. The percent of students enrolled in a math course their fourth year increased from 10% to 60% and the average math ACT increased from 16.9 to 19.9. As we are all math people, we know that numbers do not lie.
        In my opinion, I think it is important to create classrooms with students all along the spectrum in terms of “perceived mathematics ability” as every student has something to learn form one another. Pairing a student who completely gets a topic with a student that is lost helps them both. The confident student explains the topic to the other and this helps him/her understand their thinking and helps him/her remember how to do the problem. The student that does not understand gets the information explained from someone who has also just learned the material, so they are able to better explain the material student to student.

Tracking In The Mathematics Classroom

The article that I read was “Promoting Equity in Mathematics: One Teacher’s Journey” by Alan D. Tennison, published by NCTM (link: After searching for articles involving equity in the mathematics classroom, I stumbled upon this article when I began to look through the NCTM website. Throughout the article, Tennison describes his personal experience with equity in the mathematics classroom as a teacher. The specific topic of discussion in this article is tracking, or grouping students based on their abilities in different mathematics classrooms. He discusses that although tracking may be helpful to students who are high-achieving, it has proven to be detrimental to poor and minority students in the past. At the end of the article, Tennison describes his own experience with creating a heterogeneous classroom where there is a standards-based curriculum and students with differing mathematical abilities are put in the same classroom. The curriculum was split up into units where there would be a central problem relating to other areas of study that the students would investigate throughout the unit. Within Tennison’s school, he found that students who participated in this track were more likely to enroll in four-year mathematics courses in high school, and had a higher average ACT score by 3 points. The article overall begged the question about the value of tracking in high school, causing me to reflect on what I consider its value to be in the classroom, as I had always considered tracking a positive part of schools because it challenges the students that need more challenge, and gives the students who may need more support in their classes the support they need to be successful. However, there are more questionable aspects of tracking than meet the general onlookers eye.

Tracking is a controversial topic in education as often times the students who are in the “lower” track are often overlooked, and as Tennison writes in his article, they are trained to memorize formulas rather than problem solve. The problem there lies within the instruction itself, which is at the core of equity in schools. Teachers ask that students in “lower” tracks memorize formulas because do not believe that the students are capable of learning the material to the same standard that students in the “higher” track are. Tracking inherently predisposes teachers to have prejudices about students in the different tracks. While in general tracking may seem like it has benefits, the way in which it is too often carried out negates these benefits.

The information that Tennison provided can be used in the future when designing my own curriculum, especially if I am given the opportunity to teach students who consistently struggle in mathematics. A portion of the problem that he mentioned in the article is that students in tracks that are not advanced focus on drilling different formulas for memorization, not problem solving. Problem solving, critical thinking, and other skills that can be developed in the mathematics classroom are focused on in the higher-level tracks. Therefore, if working in a school where tracking is part of the curriculum, the students in “low” tracks may especially benefit from a curriculum that focuses on problem solving, and critical thinking. Thus, the modification I would then make is to implement the standards-based curriculum heavily into tracks where students more noticeably struggle in mathematics to promote equity in mathematics. Tracking in itself does not allow for full equity in the classroom because it separates students based on ability, but there are ways that teachers can work toward creating the most equity they can if working in a school where tracking is present. Tennison’s proposal for creating a heterogeneous classroom prompted me to:

  1. Ponder the value of tracking in the classroom
  2. What teachers can do to help students who have been placed in a lower track if a school does implement tracking
  3. What the underlying benefits are of having a heterogeneous classroom

Therefore, I found a chapter of a book that discusses tracking in schools, and its implications. This chapter addresses the concerns listed above about tracking, and discusses its strengths and weaknesses. The link to the chapter: