NCTM Releases New Position Statement on Ability Labels

  • November 20, 2023

    NCTM Releases New Position Statement on Ability Labels

    Ability labels are widely used in education and especially in mathematics education. They are connected to cultural beliefs that frame mathematical ability as innate and fixed, positioning some people as “good at math” and others as “bad” at the subject (Boaler, 2016). Furthermore, mathematical abilities are frequently associated with a narrow range of qualities, particularly speed and accuracy in computation (Boaler & Staples, 2008) as well as whiteness, Asianness, and maleness (Martin, 2009). 

    Do you, your school, or your district attempt to ensure that all students have access to mathematics learning opportunities that are rigorous, challenging, and affirming of their identities as learners and human beings? At the same time, do you, your school, or your district use terms such as “high,” “advanced,” “gifted,” “below basic,” “far below basic,” “remedial,” and “low” to characterize students' mathematical abilities? These practices are fundamentally incompatible.

    NCTM Position on Ability Labels: Disrupting “High,” “Medium,” and “Low” in Mathematics Education

    The following declarations highlight problems with these ways of thinking and acting and assert the need for change at many levels of policy and practice.

    • Ability labels are false
    • Ability labels are oppressive
    • Ability labels are incompatible with current purposes for mathematics education
    • Personal, structural, and systemic changes are all important and necessary

    Read the full position statement.  

    About NCTM Position Statements 
    NCTM position statements define a particular problem, issue, or need and describe its relevance to mathematics education. These statements address important and timely policy issues relevant to mathematics education. They rest on the foundation provided by Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, Principles to Actions and research, and address issues that extend beyond the classroom. Each one defines the Council's position or answers a question central to the issue. Position statements are approved by the NCTM Board of Directors.