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Updated: Mar 8

Jan 25, 2024, The Hill: Students’ reading and math scores are abysmal. So why is only one getting attention?

U.S. students’ math scores lag behind also dreary reading ones and have struggled even before the pandemic, but changes to the math curriculum to combat the problem have been slow moving.  

Over the past few years, reading curricula have seen changes in dozens of states, as lawmakers and experts have united around the “science of reading” to improve literacy and fight learning loss

But similar efforts have not manifested for math, despite lower scores in national assessments, and some experts say that’s because this is one problem that can’t be fixed with new state laws.

“There are places where this science of reading has been legislated, right? But it’s a frightening thing to think that the same thing could happen for mathematics, because there isn’t, like I said, one clean answer here,” said Ted Coe, a mathematics expert with the Northwest Evaluation Association, an education research organization.  

“But so much of the mathematics that we teach and learn depends on so many factors, and it would be a frightening thing if somebody tried to legislate how to teach mathematics,” Coe added.

Program for International Student Assessment results showed U.S. students hit an all-time low in their math scores last year, while reading scores appear to have plateaued. Out of 81 countries, the U.S. was sixth in reading and 26th in math. . . .

And student’s math problems haven’t been completely ignored at the state level.

California instituted substantial reforms in its math curriculum last year that put bigger emphasis on topics such as data science and moved algebra up to higher grades, a controversial move that critics say indicated the state was backing away from a tough subject.

West Virginia passed a law that created more benchmarks for where students should be in math and reading literacy and allowed students to be held back at third grade if they were not meeting the educational standards.

Colorado passed a bill that focused on teacher training in math, providing more help outside the classroom on the subject and a bigger focus on math in preschool.

And math coaches were introduced in Alabama to help students in lower-performing school districts.

A “couple of themes” in the math changes have been training teachers and helping them get professional development opportunities to become more comfortable with math, according to Jeremy Anderson, CEO of the NMSI and former president of the Education Commission of the States.

Stie said teachers, particularly those of younger students, often “don’t have the kind of in-depth math preparation, as part of their post-secondary training themselves,” to be the best possible educators on the subject. . . . .

While reading has dominated conversations about curriculum changes, math researchers are in the wings working on what the next steps will be for schools, including a renewed emphasis on the discipline’s importance.

“A lot of effort and money has been put into conceptualizing literacy as extremely important, extremely lacking amongst our kids and worth investing in, and it hasn’t been the same case for mathematics. But there is work being done to alleviate that, put math up on that same level of importance. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is in motion,” said Kirby Schoephoerster, program manager for the National Math Foundation.

“I’m extremely hopeful, because from the researcher’s perspective, it seems like all hands are on deck to try to answer these questions from a number of different angles,” he added.  


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