Improved and Improving Students Abilities in Mathematics

     Over the past generation (or two), the mathematics abilities of students in the United States has improved.

     Take a minute and let that opening sentence sink in a little bit.  We are constantly hearing about how poor our nation's students do in mathematics compared to other nations; sometimes we hear the same comments compared to previous generations in the United States.  But the truth is, we are improving when in comes to mathematics abilities of our students.


        The graph (above) depicts the average NAEP mathematics scores for 4th and 8th grade students since 1990.  NAEP stands for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  It is sometimes referred to as the Nations Report Card.  Among many other subject areas, NAEP periodically tests the math abilities of 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students throughout the United States.  This test is given to a representative sample of students in every state.  It is a "low-stakes" test and only aggregate results are determined.  (That is, there are no individual student results reported for NAEP tests.)

     We can see the overall increases over this time period on this graph.  While this is good news, it is also fair to say that students in the United States need to do much better than they are currently doing in mathematics achievement if we ever hope to rival our counterparts in other some other nations.  The ability of American students to reason and problem solve in mathematics is lacking.  Even students who appear to do well in math classes--as indicated by their grades--sometimes struggle in higher level math classes that require reasoning and understanding.

     So while we are improving in overall math ability over the past couple of generations, we need to continue to improve (and quicken the pace of improvement) if we want our students to be successful in world that they will inherit.

     This requires a change in the way mathematics is taught in United States.  We need to de-emphasize "grading" and re-emphasize "learning".  Students (and parents) who are only concerned about grades sometimes overlook the main purpose of schooling--which is learning.

     So let's keep the positive trend in rising math ability going.  We must.

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