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Students around the country (at all age and grade levels) struggle in 

mathematics.  My definition of “struggle” (which deviates from the norm) 

is that the student does not excel in the subject, but frequently encoun-

ters concepts that are difficult to understand.  For example, an average of 

80% is a “B” in most school systems (a highly acceptable score for many).  

However, 80% means that 20% of the concepts covered were not mastered 

by the student.  Since math builds upon itself, the student is now on pace 

to encounter increased difficulty learning future concepts (such as those 

covered in high school math courses).
When students have not mastered the current level and then move to the 

next level (such as being promoted from 6th grade to 7th grade), teachers 

are receiving students who are inadequately prepared for the topics to be 

covered.  For many students, this problem becomes progressively worse 

and puts the teacher in a very difficult position.  With a class of 25 – 40 

student and possibly 45% of them inadequately prepared, the teacher must 

cover all required curricula, trying to make the best of a tough situation.  

We must therefore be very careful blaming the teacher for academic woes.
The root cause to this problem is that students are not mastering basic 

math fundamentals, particularly at the arithmetic level.  It starts with 

multiplication, an operation that is used throughout higher level math 

problem solving.  Many students then do not learn how to manipulate 

fractions in every possible way.  This sets up students to severely struggle 

in Algebra and beyond when fractions are involved.  The Algebra teacher 

is trying to teach the students 

fractional algebraic concepts, 

but the students cannot fully 

handle fractions even without the algebra component.
Leading into high school level mathematics, students need to master 

(without the use of a calculator) the following:
 1) Single-by-single and single-by-double digit multiplication 

 2) Factors and products of all numbers between 1 and 100 

 3) Prime numbers between 1 and 100 

 4) Squares (1 – 30) and square roots (1 – 900) 

 5) Divisibility Rules for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10 

 6) Fraction, decimal, percentage conversions
In order for students to gradually reach their potential (particularly in 

math), they need a program that can assess their strengths and weak-

nesses, strengthen their weaknesses in a systematic fashion, allow them 

to practice and improve critical skills, and hold them accountable to 

performing those tasks that will lead to future academic success.

Why do Students Struggle with Math?

by Chris Millett, MS

Pearland resident Chris Millett taught Computer 

Science at Morehouse and Spelman Colleges. 

He is currently the founder, President and CEO 

of the Science, Math, and Technology Center of 

Excellence (SMATCOE). You can contact Chris  

at 281-529-6241 or via www.smatcoe.com.

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