math education in the US leads to low scores - Student Tax OPtion

Math education in the US leads to low scores

American students learn math differently than the rest of the world. Because of this, they are struggling when compared to students from other countries. Based on a recent international exam, students from the United States rank ninth in reading and 31st in math literacy out of 79 countries. American math scores have not improved in two decades, and that could be attributed to the methods of teaching the US has been set on instead of adapting to the advancement of other mathematical skill sets.

Rather than teaching students to think creatively about solving complex math problems, students in the US are steered in the direction of focusing on formulas and procedures. It is difficult for US students to compete globally amongst more learned students, whether it be in test scores, college, or careers that require advanced thinking and a higher level of data science knowledge.

Reevaluating Curriculum

One way to potentially help students continue learning efficiently would be for teenagers to learn Algebra I and Algebra II back-to-back or combined into one course. Right now, most high school students in the US take geometry in between Algebra I and II. By simply reevaluating the effectiveness of this strategy and then rescheduling classes or changing the curriculum, students could benefit from the continuation of one type of math, advancing in levels before moving on to another type of math.

Integrated math could be a way to improve mathematical performance. Higher-performing countries focus more on statics or data science. In the US, students are taught rote procedures. There is discussion of the algebra-geometry pathway possibly being phased out altogether in favor of integrated math. Common Core allows for either format of teaching math, but extra time and resources will be necessary to train teachers.

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Freeing up time would help students have a chance to learn other skills that could help them seamlessly advance through the educational system on a path geared toward higher level math use. University of Chicago economist Steve Levitt suggests the most significant parts of Algebra II and geometry and combining them into one course. This change would allow students time to learn more applicable math and advance at a quicker pace.

Estonia students ranked first among European countries in mathematics on the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment. Countries like Estonia approach learning differently than the US, as they focus less on stressful testing and more on teaching. The classes are small, and kids receive a high-quality early education, setting the base for more advanced learning later in their school years. Computer programming is taught at all levels and they are looking at using a computer-based math curriculum.

Data science is the computer-based analysis of data, often coupled with coding. With the quick advancement of the world into the computer age, it has become necessary for education to adapt. That now includes introducing data science to students at earlier ages to set a foundation they can build on through their educational journeys. Familiarization of the fundamental processes can help later in high school when more in-depth teaching can take place. A different approach to math could help US students catch up to the rest of the world. Changing the curriculum to include all students early on could also help lower-performing students have a chance to broaden the scope of educational and career opportunities. Higher performing students generally have the advantage of learning new skills, as they can finish other courses like algebra in 8th grade and have time to incorporate more advance classes in their high school education. Often, middle schoolers end up divided into groups and it is determined who will be pushed toward advanced classes in high school, leaving some students behind without the opportunity to learn new mathematical skills that would translate into successful careers in math related fields.

Math Phobia

Students are predisposed to not like math or fear it based on what they are exposed to early on in their educations. When teachers improve their attitude toward math and possibly change their teaching strategy, it can help raise student test scores, especially for girls and low-income students who can greatly benefit from a positive approach to math education. Reinforcing the ideas that math can be learned by anyone with enough practice and it is connected to everyday activities can greatly influence students who are scared to fail at math. Teaching math, like financial algebra and mathematical modeling, in the context of real-world situations can encourage students to be more engaged in learning and also help demystify the idea that math is useful in real life.

Although US math scores are currently not at the top level of other countries around the world, improvement can happen through educational changes. Curriculum changes and implementation may take time, but starting at earlier ages may lead to the advancement of skill levels in high school. Staying positive and encouraging all students throughout their mathematical education can help them adapt to new ways of learning.

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