Education Doctorate

Year Approved


First Advisor

Lindstrom, Michael


Two significant challenges confronting math educators in the United States today are overall achievement rates that lag behind many countries, and a sizeable achievement gap between White students and students of color. Research provides some explanations for these trends and ideas for reversing them, but it is rare to hear from students themselves. This qualitative phenomenological study gave voice to middle school students enrolled in lower-level math classes. Through a series of focus groups, students shared their feelings about math, perceptions of their math abilities, and instructional practices they find helpful. This study also included parent and teacher perspectives on the math experiences of students deemed “low in math.” The data revealed that students feel very negatively about their current math classes, due to classroom climate and insufficient time with teachers, and view themselves as having little potential in math. Parents find fault with the school’s math program and make excuses for not being more involved. Teachers recognize that students in lower-level classes are unhappy and unproductive, which they attribute to habits and attitudes picked up from parents, elementary teachers, and society as a whole. All three groups speculated that students’ experiences might improve in mixed-ability classes. Recommendations for educators include: analyzing math class groupings to see how the structure affects students’ attitudes and achievement; setting conditions to make learning more successful for lower-ability students, including more time with teachers, better classroom climate, and more opportunities for success; and counseling parents on course options and ways to support math learning at home

Degree Name

Education Doctorate

Document Type

Doctoral dissertation