2 November 2009 12:05 PM

America's Math Scores

by Dr. Rick

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called “the nation’s report card,” came out recently with America’s report card grade in math.  The good news is that our kids are doing a teeny bit better in math, but the bad news is that there are still far more kids who are underperforming in math than who are doing well.


Since the national test was first implemented in 1990, the percentage of fourth graders, for example, who scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math has risen from 13% to 39%.  Good but not good enough.


The percentage of kids at “basic” or “below basic” levels has dropped from 87% to 61%.

Again, good but not good enough.  Sixty-one percent of our fourth graders doing math at only the basic or below-basic levels is, frankly, scary.


The skills for the 21st century that our future workers, thinkers, leaders, and citizens will need center around our abilities to think clearly and creatively, to analyze and reason, and to solve problems independently and with others.  That’s math.  (It’s also communications and people-skills, but let’s concentrate on math here.)


Look at the growth industries of the near-future.  The Microsofts and Googles of the future will almost certainly have to do with the technologies related to alternative energy solutions.  Those who can think creatively, analyze information, and work with others to find solutions to the world’s most pressing problems will be the ones who are in the most demand, the ones who are the most successful.


Here are some ideas to help us improve on that nation’s math report card. I’ve written extensively about each of these suggestions.  Click on “Archive” to read more.

  1. Get serious about learning.  Especially math.  Show your kids that school is important to you and to the family.  Give your kids the great good fortune of coming from a family who values lifelong learning.  Read my previous blog posts about how to set goals, take homework seriously, communicate with teachers, and reward students.  If you suspect that your child is having difficulties, for heaven’s sake get help early.  The company I work for, Sylvan Learning, has thirty years’ experience and a great track record in helping kids catch up, keep up, and get ahead in math.  There are even free seminars for parents to catch up on “forgotten math.” You won’t be alone.

  2. Start early.  Show your kids how math is important in so many ways.  Show how you use math daily – you use it more than you think.  Play games and sports that require some level of math knowledge (scores, stats, record-keeping, score-keeping, measuring, etc.).  Establish good math habits and attitudes.  No fair complaining about “math was my least favorite subject in school.”  Zip it.  Don’t saddle you kids with your prejudices.

  3. Practice.  Practice makes perfect.  You’ve heard me say this countless times. Make sure your kids get plenty of opportunities and time to practice their math facts and skills.  Set up pretty strict routines for homework and study time.  Reward good effort and results.  Monitor homework.  If your child says he has no math homework tonight, contradict him and assign some yourself.  And, while working with your child during math homework time, use www.SylvanMathPrep.com an online math resource for students in grades 7-12 that provides students with on-the-spot math homework assistance.  Work with your children to recall “forgotten” math concepts so students are ready to tacklemath throughout the school year.

  4. Encourage study buddies.  One of my favorite suggestions, as regular readers know.  Your child should have study buddies to help him get ready for tests, to make sure homework assignments are done on time, to compete with, to celebrate with.

  5. Get involved.  Stay in contact with the folks at school – teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, other parents – to ensure your child is on track.  Expect excellent teachers and current, reasonable, trend-free curricula.

  6. Look to the future.  Show your child how her education now, especially math, will affect her future employability, earnings, and success in the work world.  Show how math is important in your job and how you use it every day.

  7. Set a good example.  Another favorite theme of mine.  Let your kids see you doing math – measuring, balancing your check book online, shopping, looking for the best bargains, planning trips and vacation outings, etc.  Speak of math’s importance.  Don’t speak of how you hated your eighth grade math teacher.

  8. Have high expectations.  Just as you have high expectations of the math teachers and curriculum at school, have high expectations of your child.  Let her know that her grades in math are important to you, that you’re going to be monitoring her homework and grades.

  9. Set goals.  With you child, set the goals you expect him to reach every month,  quarter, semester, year.  Decide together what appropriate rewards and consequences should be.

  10. Keep it up.  Maintain a rigorous homework and study schedule, with plenty of time for practice.  Turn off the TV and other screens.  No “multi-tasking.”  Make sure there are plenty of breaks, plenty of opportunities for fun, plenty of family time, too.

It’s not hard to argue that many of us Americans don’t value or respect learning.  Take a look at what we spend our money on, what we watch on TV, how we spend our time, how our attention spans have shortened.  It’s up to us adults to lead our kids to a future that allows them to be successful, fulfilled, and, yes, smart.




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