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Posted 12.07.06


MU Study Shows Lack of Consensus on Math Education Goals

COLUMBIA, MO - After studying mathematics curriculum across the states, The Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum (CSMC) at the University of Missouri-Columbia issued a report that concludes there is more confusion than consensus regarding what students should learn and when they should learn it. Some states expect students to start adding multi-digit numbers as early as kindergarten while in other states this work begins in the third grade. This study shows a lack of national consensus regarding common learning goals in mathematics at specific grade levels.

Barbara Reys."While local control of educational decisions, including curriculum standards, is a hallmark of American education, increased accountability has focused more attention on state curriculum decisions," said Barbara Reys, professor of mathematics education in the University of Missouri-Columbia's College of Education.

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According to the report, since the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, states and school districts have been placing a greater focus on identification of student learning expectations in math. These expectations - or curriculum standards - explain what students are expected to learn and when. However, the CSMC report found that states vary considerably in learning goals for mathematics. For example, students learn about adding and subtracting fractions anywhere between the first to sixth grades, depending on the state in which they live.

The report offers recommendations to help educators get on the same page. At each grade level, from kindergarten to eighth grade, major goals should be created and coordinated to combat superficial treatment of too many topics, a common criticism of American mathematics curriculum. Limiting the number of learning goals would promote deeper learning and lead to the creation of more focused textbooks, according to the report.

"Having 50 states with 50 different standards increases the likelihood of large textbooks that treat far too many learning expectations," said Reys, director of the CSMC project management team. "Unfortunately, this leads to fourth grade textbooks that are more than 800 pages long and contain many more topics than can possibility be discussed in a school year. It also leads to repetition in content from one grade to the next."

Above all, the report suggests that states work together to create consensus about important mathematics learning goals at each grade level. State consortiums and collaborative efforts organized by groups such as the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics or the Council of Chief State School Officers could provide such national leadership.

"We suggest that states build curriculum standards from a 'core curriculum' offered by national groups," Reys said. "A consortium of national groups could collaborate to propose a national core curriculum that focuses on priority goals for each grade. This way, states can still tailor curriculum goals around local needs while ensuring a much greater level of consistency across the states."

The Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. For more information on the Center or to see the executive summary of the report, go to The entire report was recently published in a book - The Intended Mathematics Curriculum as Represented in State-Level Curriculum Standards: Consensus or Confusion - edited by Reys.



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