Katharine Beals, PhD

Adjunct Professor, Drexel University, Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania


Showing vs. Telling: issues of efficacy and equity in fostering and assessing math skills

How much should students be required to verbalize when doing math problems: how much should they tell rather than simply show? Current practices, backed by the Common Core, have raised the verbal demands of math problems and math assessments in U.S. K12 education well above what they were a generation or two ago. This talk will examine the rationale behind and repercussions of these demands. In light of claims that student verbalizations are crucial both for assessing whether students understand the underlying math concepts and for enhancing that understanding, we’ll look at over a dozen sample questions from Common Core-inspired tests and their scoring guidelines. As we’ll see, the verbal demands are often superfluous; worse, they warp test scores, raising the scores those whose English skills exceed their math skills, and lowering the scores of students for whom the reverse is true. Included in the latter group are non-native English speakers and children with autism: for many of these kids, math was once the most accessible and promising subject—a ticket to future success. Turning back to how things used to be here in America and continue to be in countries with successful K12 math programs, we’ll conclude with more effective and equitable ways to assess and enhance students’ understanding of math concepts.


Katharine Beals teaches at the Drexel University School of Education and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. She specializes in issues relating to the education of high functioning children on the autism spectrum, children with language delays, and non-native English speakers, focusing on literacy and math instruction. Her articles on these topics have appeared on The Atlantic.com, Education Next and Education News. She is the author of Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World: Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward to Thrive at Home.

Blogs: catherineandkatharine.wordpress.com, oilf.blogspot.com