10 Myths That Hold Bright Math Students Back

These widely-held beliefs lead to decisions that prevent bright students from reaching
their full mathematical potential. Each holds a grain of truth but hides a deeper truth.

Myth 1: Math is mainly about performing procedures accurately and quickly.

A grain of truth: Procedural fluency is one of many components of math proficiency.
The deeper truth:
Math is mainly about understanding, creating, and reasoning about patterns and relationships.

 Myth 2: Mathematically talented people have special abilities that ordinary people lack.

A grain of truth: People have different capacities for understanding and doing math.
The deeper truth: Math ability is changeable, and most people, bright ones included, greatly underestimate their mathematical potential. 

Myth 3: Acceleration is highly effective in meeting the needs of bright math students.

A grain of truth: Acceleration meets some needs of some bright math students.
The deeper truth: Acceleration as typically practiced inhibits many students’ learning and growth in math.

Myth 4: Skill-based math tests can effectively measure bright students’ abilities and learning.

A grain of truth: Skill-based math tests provide some insight into bright students’ abilities and learning.
The deeper truth: Skill-based math tests alone are insufficient and are often misinterpreted.

Myth 5: Elementary teachers do not need to understand math deeply.

A grain of truth: Elementary teachers do not need extensive knowledge of secondary mathematics.
The deeper truth: All math teachers need and can gain deep knowledge around the content that they teach.

Myth 6: Bright math students’ needs can be met entirely within mixed-ability classrooms.

A grain of truth: All students can benefit when bright students take part in mixed-ability math classrooms.
The deeper truth: Bright math students also need frequent, focused opportunities to talk and work with others who are thinking at similar levels.

Myth 7: Identifying needs of bright math students is necessarily harmful and elitist.

A grain of truth: Elitism exists in gifted education and has negative consequences.
The deeper truth: Identifying bright math students and meeting their needs can support all students’ learning.

Myth 8: Bright math students often need just a little extra challenge.

A grain of truth: Students should work only on math tasks that they can make conceptual sense of.
The deeper truth: Bright math students are capable of far more than we ask of them.

 Myth 9: Bright students can learn math on their own.

A grain of truth: Many bright students are good at learning certain aspects of math independently.
The deeper truth: Nearly all math students need significant guidance in order to fully develop their potential.

Myth 10: Bright math students deserve special opportunities and experiences.

A grain of truth: Bright math students, like all others, benefit from having a range of choices and opportunities.
The deeper truth: Experiences that target a student’s needs should be treated as neither optional nor special.


Let this list spark some conversations!

Questions to Consider
What does the myth sound and look like?
What are the consequences?
What can I do?

Download a copy of this page.