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Saxon Math
Do Great Test Scores Signify a Great Math Education?

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What do Math Professors Say?
From: Tracy in TX

Saxon Math is generally held in such high regard by the homeschooling community that I seldom open my "mouth" to offer a dissenting opinion. However, if the day and mood are right I will venture forth with my "heresy." Today is such a day...

Before retirement, my father was the Dean of Instruction at a community college in a community that shifted their high school math instruction to Saxon. The teachers in his math department were UNANIMOUS in their observations that the Saxon math program did not deliver students capable of performing well in higher math. In fact my father, who resolutely keeps his nose out of my curriculum decisions (even when asked), went out of his way to make sure that I did not use Saxon math. I was surprised at his firm resolve in this issue and over the years have questioned him at length regarding the distaste his math faculty had for Saxon and looked at program in detail.

Our hypothesis is this. Saxon's emphasis on drill and repetition allows a student to perform well within a concept; thus, the results on standardized testing are good. Saxon does not adequately emphasize problem solving and certainly not problem solving that requires creatively moving from one concept to another or thinking "outside the box." This is precisely the sort of skill necessary to excel in higher mathematics.

As for Kindergarten....I was going to use Saxon anyway because I figured that perhaps the effects would not be profound at such an early level. My father reminded me that math is a skill that builds on a firm foundation and that whatever the flaws were in the Saxon program, they would be evident in the lower levels as well. So I use Scott-Foresman and supplement with drill as necessary.

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What do Engineers Say?
From: Rachel in TX

My dh is an engineer and has heard other engineers comment that Saxon is not a good math program for Algebra on up. As you said, it does not provide enough variety for thinking skills.

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What do Test Scores Say?
From: Tonya in VA

I cannot give a specific example but further explanation. Hope it helps. The teacher is probably seeing the students grasp math computational skills better. But, to use math in physics, chemistry, and other applications, computational skills are not enough. A student must understand the concept behind the computation and be able to apply the concept to a problem they may never have seen in math class. Saxon is weak in concepts. Standardized tests tend to test computation more than concepts, therefore Saxon brings scores up. I prefer Scott Foresman because they do a lot of critical thinking problems as well as teach concepts. They also are very good at applying the math they are teaching.

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How Do Students Do?
From: Laura in CT

My 7yo ds had done first two books of Miquon and some of Horizons 2 book one. My 11 dd had completed Saxon 65 last year and was maybe 1/3 through Saxon 76. It was my daughter's experience that spurred me to try Singapore.

What I noticed about my dd was that she did very well with Saxon as long as the problems looked familiar. If she didn't remember how to work a problem, she just looked for a worked example in the text that looked just like the problem she was struggling with, followed the pattern, and came up with the right answer. She usually got 85% or 90% of the problems correct. But she had no ability to figure out how to attack a new kind of problem. She could not think it through; she could only follow algorithms that were already laid out for her. She was, to use Karl Bunday's terms, following recipes. She had no understanding of why the recipes worked.

This was the way I learned math. I scored very well on tests, and even won the prize for junior mathematics in my private high school, but even then, I knew I didn't understand what I was doing. I was just good at memorizing algorithms and applying them to problems that looked just like the examples. It was OK for scoring well in high school, but of no use in higher math--I was totally lost in calculus and bailed out after a couple weeks. I've seen even more since I began homeschooling how little I understood of math, and really enjoyed learning math over again with Miquon while we were doing that.

Singapore doesn't let kids get away with memorizing algorithms. You can solve a few problems by following the pattern given in the text, but pretty soon the recipe-follower is over her head. You HAVE to think the problems through, think through what is really going on in order to solve most of the problems. They are like puzzles, and require mathematical thinking.

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Not Everyone Wants To Be a Scientist
From: Joanne M (mathmomm)

I think that in some situations, Saxon is a good choice for math. (Keep in mind that I tried it with my own daughter, but did not continue to use it.) I think Saxon might be useful for students who struggle with retaining math skills over a long period of time. The Saxon program provides daily review so that skills are practiced every day. Of course, it is hard to forget a skill that is used every day. I tutored for 11 years after quitting teaching, and I must say that students who used a Saxon program were the easiest to work with when it came to reviewing for final exams.

Also, some students do not plan on taking advanced math classes in college, nor will they be choosing a career in which math will be used. If the goal is to get through a particular math program so that it is out of the way, then Saxon may be the program to use. For example, I once tutored a student who was going to be an art major in college. She was taking high school calculus using Saxon. She didn't really like math, wasn't planning on using math in her chosen career, and, really, she just wanted to be done with math forever. After finishing her Saxon Calculus course, she took the AP Calculus test, passed with flying colors, and thus had the math credit she needed for her college degree. She went on to get her Bachelor of Arts degree and never looked at a math book again. In cases like that, I think Saxon can be a very useful program.

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When Saxon is an Appropriate Choice
From: Laura in CT

I am not a fan of Saxon math, but a few years ago my daughter used Saxon 65 and started Saxon 76 the following year.

Before we got to this point, I had heard all the negatives about Saxon math. I had also heard a lot of so-called positives: the higher test scores, the spiral approach, the constant review, and the fact that my daughter could probably do it independently. These pluses didn't address criteria that are important to me in a math program, however, so I remained mostly unpersuaded that Saxon was a great choice.

The one positive I had heard from time to time, almost as an aside, is that Saxon is good for building confidence. Kids who had had a bad time in math, once they got going with Saxon, often found math easier, liked it better as a result, and felt better about math in general.

It was confidence I was after for my daughter. She had burned out on heavy thinking programs like Miquon, and then a long break from formal math had left her feeling as if she couldn't do math. So, despite my years of promising never to use Saxon, Saxon was the program of choice for us that year.

My daughter did find math to be fairly easy with Saxon's incremental approach. She did well, rarely making anything but careless mistakes. My guess is that, had we tested her, she would have scored well. Her confidence grew, thanks to the daily practice and hand-holding Saxon provided. I found the promise that Saxon could build confidence to be true in our case. (No doubt it would not hold true for every child!)

The negatives I'd heard also proved to be true, so we abandoned Saxon 76 for Singapore Math. We are much happier in general with Singapore Math, but Saxon served its purpose. Had I not been willing to work at Singapore Math with my daughter, Saxon might have remained a viable choice because my daughter, like most children, really was able to use it independently. For families where there isn't an adult who is willing or able to teach math, Saxon may be the best choice. Not everyone needs an excellent understanding of math in their adult lives, though everyone will benefit from the best math education. Some children are more natural mathematical thinkers than others, and they may have no trouble bridging Saxon's gaps on their own. If the family's goals are merely good scores on the SATs and reasonable computing skills, Saxon may fit the bill.

I don't regret using Saxon for that year. I don't recommend it lightly, but Saxon has its benefits that may, in some cases, outweigh the negatives, especially for short-term use.

What Else Can I Use?
From: Paula H

Many people have asked me what I like. You need to find a program which is a good 'fit' for your students. For us, Singapore Math has been a good match. Its greatest strength is comprehension. You learn that math is not a series of steps to solve familiar problems, but rather a set of tools, which you can use to solve any kind of problem. Click here, if you want to read comments from users.

Learn the upper times tables in an hour with Times Tales for $12.95. Tracey in CA says, "I highly recommend Times Tales for 1st thru 3rd. Older children would see it as babyish. This is a great program that teaches an abstract concept in a concrete way. There is a story, characters & picture for each upper multiplication and division fact. Great product for any style learner!"

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