Help with Saxon Math: Understanding the Saxon Method

If you attend a school that uses the Saxon method to teach math, or if your school is considering the adoption of the Saxon approach, it's important to understand how it compares to other math instructional methods. Keep reading for an overview!

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Saxon Math Instruction


The Saxon method was developed in the late 1970s by an Oklahoma algebra teacher named John Saxon. He initially published and marketed algebra books that incorporated his method, but expanded into lower-level math and reading instruction after the relative success of his initial publications. There are now Saxon math textbooks covering grades K-12, including texts for Algebra I and II, Geometry and Calculus.


The Saxon method is distinctive because it emphasizes teaching math concepts in small chunks and provides extensive review of previously learned concepts. Its adoption by some schools is considered evidence of the backlash against 'reform mathematics,' which emphasizes conceptual understanding over direct instruction and memorization. Teachers who use and promote the Saxon approach to math instruction say that it is effective because it emphasizes mastery and retention of concepts.

For example, a traditional math curriculum might introduce a new concept, like addition and subtraction of fractions, all in one lesson. In a Saxon-based course, you might learn about adding fractions one day, then practice the skill and review concepts that you learned over the past few weeks and months. The next day, you would learn to subtract fractions, and then you would review that skill along with adding fractions and other previously learned concepts.


Various district- and state-level studies have documented improved math scores for students taught using the Saxon method compared to those taught using other methods. For instance, a 2008 study of 3rd-8th graders in North Carolina found that students taught with this method tended to be more successful on the state's math assessment than those who were not ( It also found that the students' performance improved after they were exposed to the Saxon method.

Another 2007 study of California students found that, overall, math scores of students taught using the Saxon method improved over time; however, the Saxon students in general didn't perform significantly better than their non-Saxon counterparts. Both the California and the North Carolina studies found that the Saxon method typically produced quick results in terms of improved test performance.

Some individual schools have seen very significant gains in performance. For instance, one school in New York saw scores increase 32 percentage points over three years, and the publisher reports that the math scores of 3rd graders in one Illinois school increased by 30 percentage points over three years after the Saxon method was implemented.

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