By Matthew R. Larson & Timothy D. Kanold
Chapter 1: Why Mathematics Education Needs to Improve
The authors’ purpose of this chapter is to help educators and parents understand how well math education is doing based on national and international scores and why mathematic education needs to improve.
Good News and Bad News about Test Scores
First the good news… According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), math scores have steadily improved since 1990, to an all time high in 2013, with small declines to 2015. The scores in 2015 are still significantly higher than the scores in 1990. While there are a variety of causes for this decline, the authors’ suggest it might be due to the alignment of NAEP with Common Core.
Now the bad news… While scores have significantly improved, less than half of all students are proficient in math. Let’s pause and think about that fact (the authors’ have provided plenty of evidence). Less than half of all students are proficient in math! “Yes, the percentage of students who are proficient has more than tripled for fourth grade and more than doubled for eighth grade over the period of standards-based reform, but it is still less than half.” (Larsen & Kanold, 2016, p. 13). The achievement gap between whites with Latinos and African Americans still remains. Also according to 2015 ACT math scores, less than 50% of US high school graduates were prepared for college-level math. Ouch, not good. Finally, internationally US students math scores and numeracy skills rank below the international average.
Wait there’s more… Probably due to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) most states lowered their standards to show growth, which increased the disparity between the NAEP scores and the states scores. As a result, more students are unprepared and unskilled, and cannot find a place in a knowledge-based US economy (Larsen & Kanold, 2016, p. 20).
In other words, state mathematics proficiency rates based on the old state test expectations inflated students’ true level of mathematical understanding when measured against an international performance standard that defines mathematical literacy in terms of understanding, procedural skill, and the ability to solve problems. This coincides with mathematical skills becoming increasingly valuable in the workplace (Larsen & Kanold, 2016, p. 21).
The authors go on to report that the problem isn’t the new Common Core Standards, but the false sense that our math students are doing fine on state tests that were lowered in order to meet the demands of NCLB. While we might feel good that our students are doing well on these tests, the tests are not a good indicator of what our students should know and be able to do. We need to expect more.
- Current math teaching does not work for most students.
- It’s time to break from the past and increase standards and rigor.
- Balancing the equation doesn’t just mean balancing the types of math instructional approaches (blending procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, and problem solving), but also means balancing access to great math education to EVERY student, regardless of race or poverty level.
My Call to Action
- Collect math data for my students and compare them to national data, not state.
- Find out if there are any performance gaps due to race or poverty levels, or something else.
- Find out my state’s NAEP scores.
- Figure out how to communicate the need to raise math expectations.
- Expect more from my students.
In summary, state tests have lowered our math expectations and students are not prepared for college and careers, especially Latinos and African Americans.
Juan Williams (@TheJuanWilliams), in WSJ 7/5/2016, states “For black and Hispanic students falling behind at an early age, their best hope is for every state, no matter its minority-student poverty rate, to take full responsibility for all students who aren’t making the grade — and get those students help now. That means adopting an attitude of urgency when it comes to saving a child’s education.
Please don’t despair, while the task is difficult, this chapter serves as a call to arms and the rest of the book provides more insights and answers to this serious problem that we can work together and solve.
Here is how the rest of the week will unfold…
- Table of Contents, About the Authors, and Introduction
- Evil Math Wizard — Chapter 1: Why Mathematics Education Needs to Improve
- 7/7/16 The Math Spot — Chapter 2: A Brief History of Mathematics Education
- 7/8/16 The Research Based Classroom — Chapter 3: The Common Core Mathematics Debate
- 7/9/16 Math Coach’s Corner — First half Chapter 4: The Equilibrium Position and Effective Mathematics Instruction
- 7/9/16 LIVE WEBINAR with Matthew Larson (register here)
- 7/10/16 The Recovering Traditionalist — Second half Chapter 4: The Equilibrium Position and Effective Mathematics Instruction
- 7/11/16 Guided Math Adventures — Chapter 5: How to Help Your Child Learn Mathematics
- 7/12/16 Kids Math Teacher — Epilogue, Appendix, and Recap