Thursday, April 9, 2009

Update on Math Standards Issue

In February, a large portion of mathematics educators in New Jersey were up in arms about the state's revisions to the mathematics standards. The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has held back the revisions for further scrutiny after the uproar caused by the proposed standards. The issue of how New Jersey schoolchildren should be taught is one that continuously arises in the education community. There is a group of educators and administrators who believe that children should be taught using traditional math, and a group of educators who believe that children should be taught using reform math. There are many different programs that are considered reform math, including the Connected Mathematics Project and Everyday Mathematics.

One of the main problems that contributes to this issue is the fact that conducting research of different teaching styles is so hard to do. The results of research that has been done can vary because of many factors, including the degree of teacher and administration support and training as well as environmental and personal issues in the childrens' lives. When conducting a scientific study it is important to have a control group as well as an experimental group. So, if one were researching the effects of Everyday Mathematics on test scores, research would have to be done on multiple classes who are not taught using Everyday Mathematics (the control group) and multiple classes who are taught using Everyday Mathematics (the experimental group).

When conducting studies like this, the researchers try to match the control and experimental groups as much as possible, through such factors as geographic location and past test scores. They also try and use the same teacher in all the classes for accuracy. But if the teacher prefers a reform math teaching style, he or she may not be as enthusiastic about teaching the traditional style, which could affect how the students respond and perform. Also, different children learn in different ways, and may respond better to one teaching style than another. It can't be definitely proven that a certain teaching style is better than another. However, with an increase in test scores being a common result, there are overall more positive results than negative when researching reform math.

One of the main issues with the math standards revisions is whether calculators should be used or not. As with the teaching styles, it is hard to research this effectively, and oftentimes it just comes down to a matter of opinion. Studies have found that students who are previously unenthusiastic or not motivated in math classes show signs of increased motivation when they are allowed to use calculators. Those who are for calculator use would say that this is possibly because it is exciting for them to be able to use a tool that is similar to a computer or that they have seen their parents use. Those who are against calculator use would say that it could also be because the students are excited that they don't have to think through the problems using their brain only and it is easier for them to complete the problem.

With such a sensitive topic, it is important that the state tread carefully. Education is an issue that many citizens care about. With so many different opinions about how students should be taught, it is inevitable that some will be disappointed and some will be satisfied with however the math standards are revised. The state must try and come to a compromise for all concerned parties, which will be an interesting challenge for the NJDOE.

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