5 January 2009 11:40 AM

Math International Test Results -- A View from a Guest Blogger

by Dr. Rick

Parents report that math gives them the biggest headaches when it comes to helping at homework time.  Students feel frustration when they have difficulties with the work, parents feel stress when they try to help only to discover that the methods they learned in school are not the same as what their kids are learning today.  Tempers flare.  Grades slump.  What to do?


We’ll be addressing math issues – among others – during January.  As the new year begins, we’ll look at math teaching and learning, math homework, math attitudes, math habits, and special math programs that can help both parents and students who are struggling with math.


We’ll have some guest bloggers, too, beginning today.  Judy Brown is the Math Program Manager for Sylvan Learning, a 30-year career math educator with many years’ experience teaching, writing curriculum, editing, creating web resources, and helping students and parents become successful in math.  She makes math come alive, even fun.  You should see her desk.  It’s filled with math puzzles and games that attract passers-by, stimulate their imaginations, challenge their brains, and no one even suspects – until she tells them – that they’re doing math!


Here’s Judy.



Last month, the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences released “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS),” showing that both American fourth and eighth graders have slightly improved their math proficiency since 2003. The study, however, shows that the U.S. lags behind other industrialized nations.


I am pleased to see America’s students are improving their mathematical abilities, but substantial work still needs to be done.  The TIMSS study shows that American students still lack one of the most critical skills for college and the workforce, mathematics, just when they need it the most.


In 2007, the average mathematics scores of both U.S. fourth and eighth grade students were higher than the TIMSS scale averages internationally. The average mathematics achievement of U.S. fourth graders in 2007 was 11 score points higher than the average score in 1995 (529 versus 518). The average mathematics achievement of U.S. eighth graders in 2007 was 16 score points higher than the average score in 1995 (508 versus 492). Although U.S. scores are increasing, the U.S. fourth grade score is 529 as compared to Hong Kong at 607. The gap is even greater in eighth grade where the U.S. score is 504 compared to 605 for Singapore.


U.S. scores have shown improvement which indicates that the focus on the importance of mathematics education is having a positive effect and should be continued throughout the critical middle school years. The gap is broader in eighth grade because many students have not yet mastered the foundational concepts needed for introduction to algebra. Teaching for conceptual understanding is beginning to help and as U.S. educators continue to stress the importance of conceptual understanding alongside computational fluency, we will continue to see improvement.


According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, by focusing on mathematics – especially algebra - across all grades, we will ensure that students develop the analytical thinking and reasoning skills needed for success in school and beyond.  In essence, algebra for middle and high school students must be preceded by algebraic reasoning in the early years.


Students who successfully complete higher level mathematics courses – beginning with algebra - are at an advantage.  Traditionally, students cannot take advanced mathematics classes in secondary school until they have mastered the foundational math concepts learned in elementary school – decimals and fractions - and successfully completed Algebra 1. Success in Algebra 1 is pivotal because it is the language spoken in mathematics.


To further assist parents in helping their children with math, this month, Sylvan Learning will debut “Forgotten Math for Parents” – an interactive parent workshop detailing how every math concept a child faces from fourth to ninth grade is an essential component of algebra.



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