American students not proficient in math?Friday, January 20, 2012 By Sydney Hodge, Class of '12
American students achieved their highest mathematic scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); however, many scholars believe that these scores aren’t good enough to compete with other countries. “More recent data disputes this,” said mathematics teacher Lisa Heinl. “There have been a series of tests called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) given every four years since 1995. In fact, the most recent given in 2007 had our [American] 8 th graders ranked 9 th out of 48.” Based on the scores of previous TIMSS tests many people believed that American students were not adequately learning mathematics topics properly. However, at Mayfield “we are very fortunate to be using the most current curriculum—the Core-Plus program—as well as have access to current technology such as SMARTBoards, graphing calculators, computers and the new Mayfield website,” said Heinl. Heinl thinks that this, thereby, leads to an extremely productive way in which Mayfield students, at the very least, are being taught. Mayfield districts, as well as many other institutions, that have the accessibility of new curriculum and advanced technology are also able to perform at these levels—which correlates to the increase in performance on the TIMSS and NAEP test scores. In the 1995 and 2003 TIMSS tests the United States ranked 28 th and 15 th out of 48 countries. “The U.S. has shown steady improvement,” said Heinl. However, many of the scholars who were analyzing and attempting to figure out why the United States ranked so low said that mathematics classes were at fault because of the way in which they were teaching the students. They thought that it would be more beneficial for students to learn math on the basis of life skills. Therefore, students would be learning business, finance, computer engineering, etc. that would incorporate math topics but not be limited to just math. In spite of this, these scholars were missing one key thing that differentiated American students from their peers residing in other countries. “The top five countries average around 210 days of school for the year while the US averages around 180,” said Heinl. Not only this, but “at least 60% of these kids attend another school outside of the school day and week to cram for these tests,” said Heinl. This has a major affect on the way in which American students are learning math verses other countries’ students. “Just think how much better you might do on standardized tests if you went to double the amount of school,” said Heinl. “One country that is often at the top of the test scores is Japan. What the average person does not know is that there are often two teachers in the Japanese classroom—a master teacher and one in training. Two teachers in one classroom is often better than one,” said Heinl. This further justifies why many American students do not perform at the levels that their peers do in other countries. These two distinct differences between how American students approach teaching mathematics verses other countries, give a solid representation on why the rank for America is lower than other countries. However, Heinl believes that the interpretation of the data from the TIMSS and NAEP tests have been misinterpreted to benefit the point that these scholars wanted to make. The point being that American students are learning math wrong. She said, “people throw around data to help illustrate their opinion, but do not provide additional pertinent information such as this.” Lisa Heinl has had enough experience in the math department, 22 years of teaching, to adequately support her inferences about the way math is taught. She has done activities with her students to show how the number of school days has an effect on student performance on tests and other such things. So, when Heinl says that American students are proficient at math compared to other peers in other countries, know that she has the data to prove such a point and that this data is not being skewed.