The math and reading scores of 12th graders in the US were at an all-time low even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a massive shift to distance learning, according to the results of the National Assessment. 2019 Educational Progress published in late 2020. to explain why so many high school seniors are not proficient in these critical subjects. Elizabeth Leyva, Director of Entry-Level Mathematics The leap from high school to college mathematics might be expected to be a natural progression, or a small step forward in difficulty or expectations. But over time it has become an abyss, and that abyss continues to grow. More students are taking advanced courses, Algebra II or higher, in high school. But studying the material does not mean that a student has actually learned it. As a result, a student may pass a course that should be a college preparatory course, such as Algebra II, but fail a standardized placement test or score high enough on the SAT / ACT tests to be considered “prepared. for the University”.
Most high school teachers place a different set of expectations of their students than do college teachers. In many cases, policies are set by the school district, so high school teachers are simply following the rules that the community and parents have promoted. This may include allowing students to submit late assignments, re-evaluating assessments they performed poorly on, and using a calculator for most assignments. The justification is well intentioned; High school students are young learners and may need multiple opportunities to master a concept. Multiple chances to pass means more students pass. But this generous assessment strategy has unintended consequences on student motivation and responsibility. The effect is that students may earn a passing grade but not retain or master the material in a meaningful way. This is how a student can receive a B in Algebra II, for example, but land in a developmental class when they enter college. David Purpura, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Looking at the surprising data from 12th grade students from the national report card, policy makers, researchers, parents, and teachers often ask : What’s going on with high school math? Should we change the teaching of mathematics at this age? However, performance trends in middle and elementary schools are similar. Mathematics is often taught with few explicit connections between individual classes. Sometimes these classes follow a certain order: for example, Algebra I and Algebra II. But the content inside and outside the classes is not completely connected. For example, in the first years of elementary school, we talk about addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division. We move on to fractions and then to algebra. However, this still treats these concepts as separable rather than integrated. But mathematics is a network of knowledge interrelated with new information based on previously learned information. And this acquisition of knowledge begins early. There are significant individual differences in children’s mathematical performance even before kindergarten. I think children don’t get a solid enough foundation for basic math skills in the early years. Preschool teachers spend less than five minutes a day on numbers. Almost a third of the classrooms do not provide any numerical instruction. In kindergarten, the level of instruction in mathematics is often well below what children already know and can do. The misalignment could be attributed to the low expectations set in the Common Core Standards, the academic standards shared in most states. More than 85% of children can meet certain expectations by the end of kindergarten even before entering kindergarten. These disparities continue through primary school. So the question on my mind is not: Why are so many high school seniors not proficient in math? The question is: How can teachers better link math concepts across grade levels and improve learning? For starters, I believe schools and communities need to make math a higher priority in the early years, even before kindergarten. Research shows that regularly assessing students and tailoring lessons to meet their individual needs can develop their math skills appropriately. Emily Solari, Reading Education Teacher How children learn to read is a well-researched aspect of human learning. Scientists have identified what happens in the brain when children learn to read and why some children have difficulty mastering this skill. Despite this large body of evidence about how reading develops, only 37% of 12th grade students read at a proficient or advanced level, according to the national assessment. While standardized tests are not the perfect measure of reading ability, they provide a pulse of reading achievement across the country. Importantly, the scores show significant differences in reading performance between particular groups of students. There are deep gaps between white and black students and white and Hispanic students. The education system is plagued with inequities that have a greater negative impact on historically marginalized students, particularly those who are black, Hispanic, poorer, or have a disability. Recent data suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these gaps. Improving the system and how students are taught to read is a matter of fairness. Why, if there is strong evidence on how children learn to read, has this not translated into classroom practice and better reading outcomes for students? Studies show that children must be taught the alphabet system, the relationship between letter sounds and their written form, to learn to read words. The ability to read words combined with vocabulary and language development is essential for reading comprehension. In addition to what is taught, how children are taught to read is also important. Reading instruction should be clear in scope and sequence, and skills are supplemented over time. However, a recent survey suggests that about 75% of teachers use curricula that teach early reading using a prompting approach. And 65% of college professors teach this approach to new professors. This method does not align with the scientific evidence for how children learn to read. Sometimes called “MSV,” short for meaning, syntactic, and visual, the prompting approach emphasizes reading whole words over learning the alphabetic code. This method of teaching reading can be especially problematic for children who have difficulty learning to read. To improve students’ reading ability, I believe schools, districts, and states need to push multiple levers simultaneously. This includes ensuring that instruction, curriculum, and testing are aligned with the science of reading, and that teachers and administrators receive adequate professional development on reading instruction. Additionally, teacher education programs must be committed to preparing teachers who understand how reading develops in children’s brains and how to implement current evidence-based teaching practices. Elizabeth Leyva is the director of entry-level math at Texas A & M-San Antonio. David J. Purpura is an associate professor of human development and family studies and co-director of the Center for Early Learning at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Emily Solari is a professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. This was first published by The Conversation: “Why are so many 12th graders not proficient in reading and math?”