Math regression has been a real concern during this unusual school year.

Math regression happens every year.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the long-term effects that virtual learning could have on our students. One such concern is in math regression. The Dallas Morning News reported that, like many areas, they’re seeing a significant drop in math scores, but not in reading. Since many math concepts build on one another, getting timely feedback from educators is important. Obviously, this wasn’t entirely possible when the pandemic forced students and teachers into virtual learning.

St. Louis-area high school math teacher Christina Alexander, M.S., M.Ed., graciously weighed in on this hot topic. Alexander gave three tips for combatting math regression in an interview format. Her responses are written in italics.


We’ll always have math regression.

Alexander laughed when she was originally asked about math regression. This is something that teachers deal with every single year, but now it’s amplified due to the pandemic.

We always have regression. I teach primarily geometry, and my students are coming from Algebra 1, and then they will go to Algebra 2. I need those Algebra 1 topics to stick with them through the school year to get to the following year.

So we know there’s going to be some regression. What we’ve done in years past in every unit we work in some Algebra 1 practice. Often, it’s just 20 problems, and I hit those same key topics every time. Just keeping that skill up is going to be important. This year, clearly our regression is not just the three months of Summer. We’re talking five plus months for some students, and up to eight or more for others.


3 Tips for dealing with math regression

1. Relationships are still the most important thing. 

Whether your students returned to the classroom a few months ago, or they’re just returning now, relationship building is key. Alexander talked about when her students returned, she had to figure out ways to help them build relationships with each other.

“[Normally,] we have pods and the students are facing each other. That’s just not going to happen this year. Having those groupings helped build relationships between the students and got them working together.” 

Teachers and administrators have had to get creative in finding ways for students to collaborate during instructional time. The reality is that it’s harder to make collaboration happen six feet apart. This means that relationship building from peer to peer is going to be slower. However, this means there is an even greater need to build trust and rapport from a teacher to student perspective.


2. Re-establish the learning environment.

Failure is okay here. 

“You have to create an environment where failure isn’t a bad thing. So, for example, I’m actually in the process of writing the virtual math curriculum for students who aren’t at grade-level. We’re going to spend a week where we talk about mistakes we’ve made in life, and how to learn from them. Then, we’re going to look at mistakes they’re making on math problems and ask them to learn from those.”

This is a great concept, but students have figured out that while it’s okay to fail…it really isn’t okay when it comes to their grades. Alexander suggests grading in a way that encourages learning from mistakes.

She says, “There are summative assessments that get graded right-versus-wrong, but we need to provide opportunities along the way to have risk-free mistake time. And even after those summative assessments, there needs to be a way for students to go back and learn from it.”

In order to actually help students improve from their mistakes, Alexander suggests finding ways to engage them one-on-one.

“I think students are much more willing to make mistakes one-on-one. It’s scary to do it in a classroom of 25 people.”.

Remembering the basics

The way students are currently learning, whether it’s online, hybrid, or fully in-person, is still really different for them and for teachers. Just like building relationships looks different, so does being a student. Even if you’ve been back in the classroom for a few months, it’s still a good reminder to revisit procedures and some of the how-tos when it comes to being a student. Remind students how to read for understanding, even though you’re in math class. Give pointers on note-taking, and encourage students to revisit their notes because they may have forgotten that. Many of these practices are great, with or without a pandemic to worry about.


3. Prioritize the need-to-knows.

When it comes to addressing math regression, it’s important not to get overwhelmed. If you put the work in to get to know your students, you’ll probably have a good idea about what concepts they’re going to struggle with. Alexander emphasized talking to your students’ previous teachers to find out what concepts were especially challenging.

Additionally, she mentioned previously that for certain subjects in math, you’ll already know what you need to practice based on what courses were previously taught. Finally, look at your curriculum. What are the absolute need-to-knows? Your district likely has determined this. Find out what those key concepts are and spend most of your energy there.


One final thought: communication is everything

Alexander served this past summer as the summer school administrator. She said this:

For summer school, my word was communication. Make a plan of how are you going to communicate with your students and their families.” Revisit that plan, too, for your own benefit. Just like students need to be reminded of routines, teachers can benefit as well. 

Change won’t happen overnight.

Nevertheless, our teachers are continuing to work hard, despite less than ideal conditions. Overcoming math regression due to the pandemic isn’t going to happen overnight. In fact, putting a timeline on it isn’t necessarily healthy. Much of the data collected doesn’t account for students who were unable to test. Plus, every teacher knows that each student learns at a different rate. It’s still important to strategize for the well-being of our students. However, we can’t expect our teachers to work a miracle and overcome, in some cases, nearly a year of lost learning time.

So teachers, do your best to serve your students where they’re at, focus on what’s important, and review your communication strategies. You got this!


Feeling inspired?

It might sound strange, but now is a great time to become a teacher or administrator. If you want to learn more about Graduate Education at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, you can visit us here. No matter where you are in your educational journey, we’d be honored to help you take your next step in reaching your goals.


— Vanessa Lane is the Content Marketing Lead at Concordia University and can be reached at When she's not at work, she can be found playing with her kids or watching NBA basketball with her husband.

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