RAND Report Identifies Ways To Improve Student Math Performance

For Release

April 21, 2003

A new RAND study says mathematics proficiency of elementary and secondary students could increase if a coordinated program of research and development is conducted examining how to improve the way mathematics is taught in American schools.

The study, released today, recommends three areas that should be emphasized in efforts to improve mathematics education:

  • Development of the mathematical knowledge that teachers need to effectively teach students from diverse backgrounds.
  • Teaching and learning required for mathematical thinking and problem solving, because educators can develop more effective mathematics instruction by gaining a better understanding of the practices of successful learners and users of mathematics.
  • Teaching and learning algebra from kindergarten through 12th grade, because algebra is central to proficiency in mathematics.

The report argues that current efforts to improve mathematics proficiency of students “have not been adequately informed by the work of the research community. Because of this,…debates (about mathematics education) have often been undisciplined and contentious.”

The study outlines a sustained and cumulative program of research and development intended to provide answers to questions about what works and what does not work in developing mathematical proficiency. It says that “a coordinated, cumulative, and problem-centered program of research and development in mathematics would require skilled management and direction.”

The report proposes a strategy that government funders might use to foster changes. The strategy includes creating a standing committee of researchers and leaders in education, business, and the nonprofit sector to assess what has been learned through research and evaluation and propose future directions for mathematics education research and development.

“Government funders, as well as performers in the field, (must) approach and manage their work differently than they have in the past,” the study says.

Despite prolonged efforts to improve students' mathematical performance, mathematical competency in U.S. schools remains alarmingly low. In addition, wide achievement gaps continue among different socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups.

The study was prepared by a panel of researchers, mathematicians, and educators chaired by Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a professor at the University of Michigan.

The report is titled “Mathematical Proficiency for All Students: Toward a Strategic Research and Development Program in Mathematics Education.” It is one of two reports to the U.S. Department of Education prepared jointly by RAND Education and RAND's Science and Technology Policy Institute as part of a larger effort to recommend ways that research and development can be used most effectively to improve the quality of education. The other report, “Reading for Understanding: Toward an R&D program in Reading Comprehension,” was released last year.

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