PISA Results Highlight Need for Renewed Focus on Access, Equity and High School Mathematics Education

  • Dec 6, 2016

    PISA Results Highlight Need for Renewed Focus on Access, Equity and High School Mathematics Education

    Reston, Va., December 6, 2016-Results of the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released today demonstrate the need for a renewed focus on access, equity and high school curriculum for U.S. students in mathematics, according to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). PISA results show that students in the United States performed below average ranking 31st in mathematics out of 35 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

    “The performance by U.S. students in mathematics should raise a red flag and underscores the need for a renewed focus on access and equity,” said NCTM President Matt Larson. “We are concerned about inequitable outcomes for students in mathematics in this country. Each and every student must receive not only access to high-quality instruction, a rigorous curriculum, but also experience mathematics in engaging and positive ways in the classroom that build on their strengths and develop positive mathematics identities.”

    The U.S. 2015 average score on mathematics fell as compared to previous years. Students' average score was 470, which is below the overall OECD test average of 490 and 11 points lower than it was in 2012 (481) and 17 points lower than in 2009 (487). Additionally, it was not just one population of students who performed poorly in math - results showed that students across the distribution, from the lowest performing to the highest performing, doing worse in math.

    The PISA test is administered every three years and tests 15-year-old students' performance in mathematics, science, reading, financial literacy, and other problem-solving subjects. Approximately 540,000 students took the test worldwide with 5,700 in the United States.

    The recent release of other test scores, including 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Advanced, and the high school National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results, reinforce the need to reexamine how high school students experience instruction and what high school students are learning in mathematics. The students who participated in the TIMSS Advanced assessment in advanced mathematics were in their final year of high school and had taken or were taking advanced mathematics courses covering topics in geometry, algebra, and calculus. The U.S. score in advanced mathematics in 2015 (485) was not measurably different from the U.S. score in 1995 (497), according to this particular study.

    “We envision a world where everyone is excited about mathematics and sees the value mathematics education can bring to students,” noted Larson. “Each and every student deserves the right to have a positive experience in mathematics. Math is an essential analytical tool that students need to help better understand their context, experiences, and the world.”

    NCTM has been concerned about access and equity in mathematics education for some time and released a position statement on the issue. It recommends being responsive to students' backgrounds, experiences, cultural perspectives, traditions, and knowledge when designing and implementing a mathematics program and assessing its effectiveness. Additionally, NCTM has recommended a substantial rethinking of the high school math curriculum, advocating for more effective mathematics experience for each and every student. A recently formed NCTM task force will develop pathways for mathematics education that address access, equity, and empowerment issues, and will define curricular pathways to college, career, and citizenship readiness.

    Media interested in arranging an interview with NCTM President Matt Larson should contact Stacey Finkel via email or call 703-304-1377.

    About NCTM

    The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is the public voice of mathematics education, providing vision, leadership, and professional development to support teachers in ensuring mathematics learning of the highest quality for each and every student. With 70,000 members and more than 200 Affiliates, NCTM is the world's largest organization dedicated to improving mathematics education in prekindergarten through grade 12. The Council's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics includes guidelines for excellence in mathematics education and issues a call for all students to engage in more challenging mathematics. Its Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics identifies the most important mathematical topics for each grade level. Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making advocates practical changes to the high school mathematics curriculum to refocus learning on reasoning and sense making. Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All describes the policies and actions required for a high-quality mathematics education for each and every student. NCTM is dedicated to ongoing dialogue and constructive discussion with all stakeholders about what is best for our nation's students. 

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