Problems with Determining Math Grade Level for a Student

A common scenario involves a school official reporting out the grade level in math for a student. For example, a 7th grade student I was helping had tested at a 4th grade level. As a result, the student spent much of her 7th grade year working on 4th grade math.

There are a couple problems in establishing a grade level in math. First, unlike reading, math is not nearly as linear. The image below shows a breakdown of the Common Core of State Standards math categories, called domains. In a video, I use this graphic to unpack why it is more challenging to determine a single level of ability for math. In short, the reason is the student could be doing well in some categories and doing poorly in others. Second, the testing used to establish ability level can be problematic for the student. For example, the student may not have the stamina or attention span to endure a longer assessment.

If you are presented with a single grade level as an indicator of math ability, I recommend that you ask for a breakdown by category and how your student will be provided differentiation to address gaps. This is more appropriate than plowing through all of the math at a lower grade level.

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3 thoughts on “Problems with Determining Math Grade Level for a Student

  1. […] Also, math is very different than reading because math has a variety of categories of math, aka domains. A student testing at a 4th grade level in math does not reveal much information, as I explain in this previous post. […]

  2. […] is no single grade level for math, as is the case for reading. Math progression is more like a web, not a line. For example, if a student can do 5th grade geometry but only 3rd grade level fractions, do we […]

  3. […] In the first image above, highlighted on the left, is an indication that focusing on standardized testing in isolation to determine current levels of performance is problematic. A key element in my assessment and support for students is use of curriculum based assessment that is aligned with the Common Core. This allows me to gauge student achievement and ability on the actual curriculum and on the various standards at different grade levels as opposed to assigning a single grade level for a student’s math ability. […]

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