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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

American Math Scores

A while back, the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. This test measures the performance of 15-year-olds in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. The results of American children can be found here

The following is an article by The Washington Post's Jay Matthews about U.S. test scores. 

Are math scores lagging because U.S. parents are clueless?
By Jay Mathews
I stumbled across one of those charming surveys with too small a sample to depend on, but a result interesting enough -- and close enough to possible -- to blog on anyway. It suggests that the kids in Singapore are stealing our lunch money in the race for math supremacy because their parents hire tutors far more often than we do, and because their parents have a less inflated sense of their math skills than U.S. parents do.

The survey of 1,114 parents of children ages 10-14 was conducted in 2010 by a team of researchers working for the Raytheon Co. and a Boston firm called Eduventures Inc. There were only 561 parents from the United States, 311 from England and 272 from Singapore participating, but the researchers apparently felt that gave them at least a faint suggestion of what might explain the fact that Singapore students’ average math scores are significantly above those of U.S. students. What do you think?

In Singapore, the researchers said, 42 percent of parents report the use of tutors for math help, compared with 10 percent of parents in the United States.
That doesn't mean those American 10- to 14-year-olds aren't getting extra help with their math homework. Seventy-seven percent of U.S. parents said family members helped the children, usually about one or two hours a week.

Let's give a cheer for involved parents before we review the evidence suggesting that mom and dad may not be the best tutors, or the best judges of the worth of their assistance. More than half said they "believe they have high ability to help their children with fractions, division, and math word problems." Seventy-two percent said they "know the level of math education my child needs to succeed in college."

The researchers, phrasing their conclusions gently, said: "Evidence suggests U.S. parents may be overly confident or lacking in the use of accurate metrics around math performance and college preparedness. For example, 78 percent of U.S. parents report their children's math performances are in the top 20 percent compared to peers in school."

There is more bad news for us otherwise good-hearted American parents, proud of our kids and eager to help. The researchers discovered that 51 percent of Singapore parents had received instruction from educators about how to help their children with math. In the United States and England, only 25 percent of parents reported receiving similar instruction.

About a third of Singapore students had participated in math competitions, the parents reported. Only 20 percent of the English parents and 9 percent of the American parents said the same.
U.S. educators appear to think that our kids need more help in math, as well as other subjects. Parents agree. Now we have to figure out if the help we are giving them is really helping much.


  1. Our present education system does not always provide the challenges that can bring out the best from a student. Every American student has the capability to complete their school and hold postsecondary degrees. They have the expertise and talent; online tutoring services like helps to bring that out by providing them all essential helps at the most reasonable cost. There are many students in our country, who can’t continue with their studies due to lack of proper guidance and poor financial background. Some of them offer online math scholarship program to help deserving underprivileged American students learning math at free of cost.

  2. National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

    Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

    The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

    Project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

    Alan Cook


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