What Can Be Done to Improve America’s Math Performance?

There is no question that the need to improve American students’ math scores has garnered much attention on a national level. U.S. Education officials have been pushing reform for years now. We simply aren’t going to be able to compete with our global competitors in knowledge-based fields if we continue to fall short in math and science. So what can we do?

Set high expectations

According to the College Readiness report by ACT, students who take the recommended core curriculum for high school including three years of math achieve higher ACT scores than those who don’t, regardless of socio-economic background, race and gender.1

But expectations for students to take and succeed at high level math and science courses in high school must be balanced by preparing them well in early years to do just this.

Our expectations for students to succeed at high levels of math and science need to be rooted in deep learning early on and continued support throughout the years, rather than pushing high level curriculum down the pipeline to earlier grades.

Provide ample challenging opportunities

We need to help students learn to embrace challenge early on in their mathematical studies and develop critical thinking road maps for problem solving.

As a nation, continued PR and media campaigns promoting role models in math and science innovation can add to a shift in the mindset of young students. NOVA has a fantastic series called The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers that aims to inspire more youth to pursue STEM careers by profiling STEM professionals who lead less than ordinary lives.

Debunk the “I’m not good at math” myth

If we begin to teach math in a way that rewards students for their time and effort, rather than simply on a right or wrong answer, we can nurture a mindset where they aren’t afraid of a challenge and take the time to figure it out.

Part of the challenge lies in helping students see that their math skills are not fixed, and that with effort they can improve with the help of a consistent educator or mentor working along side a student, helping him or her build on previous skills, and witness growth in process.

Adopt practices that are getting great results

What seems to work the best is when students learn math in a logical, consistent manner, mastering number facts and arithmetic, while being given the opportunity, once such mastery is achieved to explore conceptual problems and more challenging abstract applications of mathematical concepts. To do this successfully requires teachers adept at teaching math in both of these modes.

If we improve the math education for teachers in training and reduce their anxiety toward math, they’ll be better prepared to help students develop math as a strength skill rather than a liability.

Last of all, a simple but strategic practice for improving student math performance is to teach students strategies for working with their math textbooks.

Make Use of Technology

From Khan Academy videos, to online tutorial programs, to flipped classrooms, technology can be leveraged today to improve students’ math performance

Promote Positive Attitudes for Students

An additional insight offered by the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center is that students from around the world do better in math if they maintain a positive attitude about the subject.2

Do you have any other strategies for improving math skills? Please share in the comments.  Stay tuned for more math themed blogs this week!


1 “Benefits of a High School Core Curriculum” College Readiness, 2006, ACT. http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/core_curriculum.pdf 

2 “Parental Expectations and Academic Achievement” Julie Grossman, Megan Kun-McKearin, William Strein, 2011. http://www.education.umd.edu/Academics/Faculty/Bios/facData/CHSE/strein/ParentalExpectationsAndAcademicAchievement.pdf


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