Math literacy in America

Notes

  • 2022: America spends more, per-student, on education than any nation in the world except Luxembourg (total population: 639,000).
  • 2012: America spent more than any other nation in the world on education.

“WHICH NATIONS WILL WI… by jonsutz


Contents

(1) US child math literacy (broken down among black and Hispanic children, and children overall)

(2) US adult math literacy

(3) Examples of underlying, institutional sabotage of black and Hispanic children


Highlights

  • Between 2000 and 2012, US teens dropped from 18th to 27th place in the PISA standardized math test (only seven places above Mexico).
  • 2018: US teens dropped to 31st place in the PISA standardized math test (see “OECD only” tab).
  • 2018: When compared to the math proficiency of all nations reporting, US teens dropped to 38th place, behind China, Slovenia and the Russian Federation (see “All Education Systems” tab).
  • 2023: “Latest national test results show striking drop in 13-year-olds’ math and reading scores”: From education industry newsletter ChalkBeat:

American 13-year-olds remain far behind in key math and reading skills, according to the latest data from a long-running national test.

Scores were substantially lower in the fall of 2022 compared to the last time the test was administered three years earlier. Making matters worse, even before the pandemic hit, 13-year-olds had lost ground on the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP.

That adds up to a striking collapse in achievement scores since 2012, after decades of progress in math and modest gains in reading. In reading, 13-year-olds scored about the same as those who took the test in 1971, when it was first administered. Math scores were now comparable to those in 1992.

  • 2023: New York State will drop math standards to a lower threshold for defining a student as “proficient.” Related: In 2022, not one eighth grader in Schenectady who took the math test scored as proficient.
  • 2023: New York City spending on K-12 schools rose to $37,000 per student, per year – even though only 38% of eighth-graders can pass the state’s mandated math test.  Between school years 2015-16 and 2021-22, NYC school spending increased by 47% – even though enrollment declined by 141,000 students.
  • 2023: 53 Illinois high schools fail to achieve grade level proficiency in math, even though per-student spending on education nearly doubled in three years, jumping from $20,000 per year in 2019, to $35,600, in 2022.  For example, not one of the 113 students at Sandoval Sr High School can read or do math at grade level – even though the school is rated as “commendable” by the Illinois State Board of Education, the 2nd-highest of four ratings for “accountability,” as judged by the ISBE.
  • 2022: The percentage of black 11th-graders in the Des Moines Public Schools who are proficient in math dropped from 27% in 2021 to 18% in 2022.
  • 2022: In Wisconsin, black 4th-graders score 22% below white students on math tests; at the 8th-grade level, they score 24% below white students.
  • 2019: 84 percent of black students in Virginia lack proficiency in mathematics (NAEP).

Note: The NAEP defines “proficiency” as “demonstrat[ing] competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter. Thus, NAEP Proficient represents the goal for what all students should know.”

  • 2019: 90% of black students in California lack proficiency in mathematics, and had an average math score that was 41 points lower than that for white students, essentially unchanged since 2000. 85% of CA Hispanic students lack proficiency in mathematics, and had an average math score that was 32 points lower than white students, slightly improved from 2000, when the gap was 35 points.
  • 2019: Despite the fact that roughly 85-90% of black and Hispanic teens are not proficient in math, 80% of black students and 82% of Hispanic students were able to “graduate” from public high schools (below the U.S. average of 86 percent).
  • 2012: When the OECD tested half-a-million 15-year-old students around the world in a test known as PISA in 2012, US teens came in 27th place in math, below their counterparts in Estonia, Latvia, Vietnam, and Spain.
  • 2012: “Just over one-quarter (26%) of 15-year-olds in the United States do not reach the PISA baseline Level 2 of mathematics proficiency, at which level students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life. This percentage is higher than the OECD average of 23% and has remained unchanged since 2003. By contrast, in Hong Kong-China, Korea, Shanghai-China and Singapore, 10% of students or fewer are poor performers in mathematics.”

(1) US child math literacy

(1a) Math literacy among black and Hispanic children

(1b) Math literacy among children – general


(1a) Math literacy among black and Hispanic children

Most recent items are at atop.

FOX45 News questions leaders about math scores in City Schools; oversight hearing called — WBFF (Fox, Baltimore), February 8th 2023. Excerpt:

After FOX45’s Project Baltimore’s report uncovering 23 schools in Baltimore City had zero students who tested proficient in math, some leaders representing the city aren’t talking about the problem.

The Maryland State Department of Education recently released the 2022 state test results known as MCAP, Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program. Baltimore City’s math scores were the lowest in the state; 7% of third through eighth graders tested proficient in math, meaning 93% could not do math at grade level.

Project Baltimore analyzed the test results and found 23 schools – including elementary, middle and high schools – that didn’t have one student performing at grade level.

California reading, math scores show how COVID affected students, San Francisco Chronicle, October 24, 2022. Excerpt:

With few exceptions, schools across California saw significant declines in standardized test scores this year compared with pre-pandemic levels, with less than half of students proficient in reading and a third performing at grade level in math. […]

In reading, the proficiency rate for California school children dropped to 47%, down from 51%. Statewide, students also lost significant ground in math, with 33% rated proficient in the subject in the spring, compared with 40% in 2019.[…]

The achievement gap remained relatively stagnant, continuing to show a chasm between Black and brown students and their white and Asian American peers.

Wisconsin has widest gap in the US for math, reading scores among white and Black students, Wisconsin Public Radio, October 24, 2022. Excerpt:

Regarding racial disparities, white students scored around 24 percent higher in math and 22 percent higher in reading than their Black classmates in fourth grade.

Among eighth graders, white students scored 22 percent higher in math and 16 percent higher in reading than their Black peers.

“The racial disparities between our Black and white students, when it comes to these scores … it’s too wide. Anything would be too wide,” said Abigail Swetz, communications director for the state Department of Public Instruction. “It has been going on for too long because any amount of time is too long, and it is time that we address this very intentionally.”

Previously: Black students near bottom in nation on benchmark math, reading test, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2013 – J

Iowa state assessment shows DMPS’ continued struggle to teach Black male students math, Des Moines Register, August 5, 2022. Excerpt:

Fewer Des Moines Public Schools’ Black male students are proficient in math compared to last year, a new state assessments shows.

Math assessments, discussed during Des Moines School Board meeting on Tuesday, show in the spring 2022, fewer than 18% of 11th-grade Black male students were proficient in math, according to a draft of the board’s goals and interim goals proposal. In spring 2021, 27% of those students were considered proficient. 

The results are part of the yearly Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress results.

Many of America’s Black youths cannot read or do math — and that imperils us all, The Hill, November 4, 2021. Excerpt:

There is something deeply troubling happening in this country. I thought I had a grasp on it, but I was gravely off-base. I hosted the Republican candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor, Winsome Sears, on my TV show, Your Voice, Your Future, on Nov. 1. I had planned to ask her and the other guests questions on issues ranging from the November election to inflation, to the current presidential administration. However, in Mrs. Sears’s first response, the entire course of the show changed.

In my first question, I asked her what is wrong in Virginia and how it can be fixed. Her response startled me: She told me that 84 percent of Black students in eighth grade lack the ability to do math, and 85 percent are functionally illiterate. I could not believe this. In fact, I thought she had misspoken. My researchers quickly fact-checked her words and confirmed this sad reality. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a sector of the U.S. Department of Education, 84 percent of Black students lack proficiency in mathematics and 85 percent of Black students lack proficiency in reading skills. This astonished me, and the hour-long show became dedicated to examining what’s behind these numbers.

Still, I left the studio perplexed. How could this happen in schools located so close to the nation’s capital? I have reported extensively on the educational plight of Baltimore, but I thought this issue might be unique to that city. Was this happening nationwide? I had to get to the bottom of it.

My team and I scoured the NAEP data sets and found a trend that should concern every politician — indeed, every American. In California, 90 percent of students cannot do math or read well. In New York, the numbers are 85 percent and 82 percent. In Illinois it is 86 percent and 85 percent. In Texas the numbers are 84 percent and 89 percent.


(1b) Math literacy among children – general

Most recent items are at atop.

LeBron James-backed ‘I Promise School’ delivers ‘discouraging’ results: NO eighth-grade student has passed state math test in three years, Daily Mail Online, July 30, 2023. Excerpt:

I Promise School, part-funded by LeBron James and his foundation, has come under scrutiny from the state following revelation of alarming test scores.

The Akron, OH. public school, operates in conjunction with the LeBron James Family Foundation, has not had a sole student in its fall eighth-grade cohort pass the state math test since the third grade, per the Akron Beacon Journal.

James’ altruistic venture saw him help the school open in 2018 to serve ‘students who are already falling behind and in danger of falling through the cracks’, according to its website.

Just 7% of students proficient in math in Baltimore City, WBAL-TV, Apr 27, 2023. Excerpt:

According to test results, only 20% of Maryland students are proficient in math, and that number is much lower in Baltimore City. City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises explained why.

Santelises spoke with members of the Baltimore City Council Thursday night. She said chronic absenteeism is one part of the problem, but also said teachers need more support.

“I want to find out, how did it happen? We know the pandemic came, so how do we change that and help these kids in math?” asked councilman Robert Stokes.

New York State to drop math standards to lower threshold for defining a student as “proficient” – The Times Union (NY), March 16, 2023. Excerpt:

New York will change what it takes for students to reach “proficiency” on state math and English language arts tests, calling last year’s lower scores the “new normal.” A scoring committee that reports to the Board of Regents said Monday that they must take into account the results of last year’s tests for students in grades three through eight to determine whether schools are showing improvement from year to year. On Thursday, the committee wanted to clarify that they must also reset scores because the tests will have new performance standards. Last year some schools posted shocking results — in Schenectady, no eighth grader who took the math test scored as proficient.

53 Illinois high schools fail to achieve grade level proficiency in math – Fox News, . Excerpt:

“What’s really incredible is that many of these schools are rated ‘commendable’ by the Illinois State Board of Education. That’s the 2nd-highest of four ‘accountability’ ratings a school can receive,” Wirepoints wrote. “Not a single one of the 113 students at Sandoval Sr High School can read or do math at grade level. And yet the school is ‘commendable.’” […] The issue also does not appear to be a matter of funding either, “Data from the Illinois State Board of Education shows spending at Spry was already at $20,000 per student before the pandemic. Today it spends $35,600.”

23 Baltimore schools have zero students proficient in math, per state test results, WBFF, February 6, 2023. Excerpt:

Baltimore City is facing a devastating reality as the latest round of state test scores are released.

Project Baltimore analyzed the results and found a shocking number of Baltimore City schools where not a single student is doing math at grade level.

“We’re not living up to our potential,” said Jovani Patterson, a Baltimore resident who made headlines in January 2022, when he filed a lawsuit against Baltimore City Schools. The suit claims the district is failing to educate students and, in the process, misusing taxpayer funds.

“We, the taxpayer, are funding our own demise,” Patterson said at the time.

The price tag for COVID school closures could top $28T NY Post, January 1, 2023. Excerpt:

Add one more grim figure to the toll exacted by disastrous COVID-era school closures: a huge penalty to the lifetime earnings of students forced to suffer through remote schooling, totaling possibly as much as $28 trillion (more than the nation’s entire GDP) over the remainder of the 21st century.

Those figures come from a new study by Eric Hanushek, a Stanford University economist and expert on education, following on his own 2020 study, as well as work published by professors at Harvard and Dartmouth in October.

The new study analyzes the hideous nationwide decline in 8th-grade math scores on the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a k a the nation’s report card. The average drop in math scores amounted to eight points — the largest ever recorded, erasing all gains since 2000, equal to as much as 0.8 missed years of school and a likely lifetime penalty of 5.6% to earnings. 

California reading, math scores show how COVID affected students, San Francisco Chronicle, October 24, 2022. Excerpt:

With few exceptions, schools across California saw significant declines in standardized test scores this year compared with pre-pandemic levels, with less than half of students proficient in reading and a third performing at grade level in math. […]

In reading, the proficiency rate for California school children dropped to 47%, down from 51%. Statewide, students also lost significant ground in math, with 33% rated proficient in the subject in the spring, compared with 40% in 2019.[…]

The achievement gap remained relatively stagnant, continuing to show a chasm between Black and brown students and their white and Asian American peers.


The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress report revealed that math literacy among America’s 4th and 8th grade students dropped more than at any point since the NAEP’s initial assessments, in 1990.

– Source: NationsReportCard.com


As alarming as test scores are, reality for U.S. students is probably worseHarvard Gazette, September 14, 2022. Excerpt:

Declines in reading and math scores among U.S. 9-year-olds during the pandemic were not just dramatic but historic, according to a report issued late last month by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Andrew Ho, Charles William Eliot Professor of Education at Harvard, previously served on the board that oversees the tests. In an interview with the Gazette, he talked about the stark inequality apparent in the results and how families, individual schools, and government can help students recover lost ground. The interview was edited for clarity and length.

Q&A

Andrew Ho

GAZETTE: Were you surprised by the falling scores?

HO: I was surprised by their magnitude. I was also struck by the magnitude of the worsening inequality — the extent to which disparities in educational opportunities have widened over the pandemic. To put it one way, for students at the 10th percentile, which is to say lower-scoring students, their declines were four times the declines of students at the 90th percentile.

Math scores stink in America. Other countries teach it differently – and see higher achievement, USA Today, February 29, 2022. Excerpt:

American students struggle in math.

The latest results of an international exam given to teenagers ranked the USA ninth in reading and 31st in math literacy out of 79 countries and economies. America has a smaller-than-average share of top-performing math students, and scores have essentially been flat for two decades.

One likely reason: U.S. high schools teach math differently than other countries.

Classes here often focus on formulas and procedures rather than teaching students to think creatively about solving complex problems involving all sorts of mathematics, experts said. That makes it harder for students to compete globally, be it on an international exam or in colleges and careers that value sophisticated thinking and data science.

Americans are spectacularly bad at answering even the most basic math questions, Quartz, March 15, 2016. Excerpt:

When the OECD tested half-a-million 15-year-old students around the world in a test known as PISA in 2012, US teens came in 27th place in math, below their counterparts in Estonia, Latvia, Vietnam, and Spain.

2012 PISA Test shows American children score 27th in math literacy in international rank – behind Estonia (#5), Slovenia (#14), Czech Republic (#17)

More, from here:

The United States earned:

  • Lower overall numeracy scores than the international average
  • A higher percentage of low performers than the international average
  • Lower numeracy scores than we had in 2003

Worse: Our overall numeracy score has taken a nine-point dive since the 1993 study.

Excerpts from PISA highlights 2012 – US students:

  • While the U.S. spends more per student than most countries, this does not translate into better performance. For example, the Slovak Republic, which spends less than half per student than the US on education, they perform at the same level.
  • Just over one in four U.S. students do not reach the PISA baseline Level 2 of mathematics proficiency – a higher-than-OECD average proportion and one that hasn’t changed since 2003. At the opposite end of the proficiency scale, the U.S. has a below-average share of top performers.
  • Students in the United States have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into  mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems. An alignment study between the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and PISA suggests that a successful implementation of the Common Core Standards would yield significant performance gains also in PISA.
  • Just over one-quarter (26%) of 15-year-olds in the United States do not reach the PISA baseline Level 2 of mathematics proficiency, at which level students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life. This percentage is higher than the OECD average of 23% and has remained unchanged since 2003. By contrast, in Hong Kong-China, Korea, Shanghai-China and Singapore, 10% of students or fewer are poor performers in mathematics.

Noll: Understanding America’s science and math literacy crisis, Fierce Telcom, October 27, 2009. Excerpt:

Many people indeed do believe ­ as I do ­ that knowledge of the very basic principles of mathematics, science, and technology is essential in today’s world. How can one consider oneself an educated cultured person without such literacy? But the real challenge is how to achieve science, mathematics and technological literacy on a national level.

None of this is new ­ nor are the solutions. Dr. William O. Baker (former chairman of the board of Bell Labs, now deceased) deplored the lack of basic skills in the United States and advocated mathematics and science education as corrective action.

I spent years at the Annenberg School teaching the basic fundamentals of communication technology to graduate and undergraduate students. But over time, these courses had ever-decreasing numbers of students, until finally a few years before my retirement there were no graduate students interested in taking such courses.

Although knowledge of algebra and calculus might be nice, math literacy is really a competency in basic arithmetic. Nearly one-quarter of my students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels believed that 1 divided by 5 = 5.

The simple fact is that most students believe that science, mathematics, engineering and technology are difficult and incomprehensible topics.

Students fear that which they do not know, or have had scary experiences with in the past. Thus the real challenge is how to motivate students to want to study and learn these topics, and how to teach them in a stimulating and understandable manner.

2000: Math literacy of US 15-year-olds compared to world counterparts, on PISA test

US 15-year-olds scored 18th in the world, behind Japan, South Korea and the Czech Republic.

Note: By 2012, US 15-year-olds dropped to 27th in the world, behind Estonia and Slovenia. – J


(2) Adult math literacy


America’s Math Problem: We have a hard time grasping big numbers. That’s really bad for public policy, CATO Institute, August 25, 2021. Excerpt:

In general, study after study shows that many people just struggle to grasp really big—and really small—numbers.

Second, a lot of people lack an understanding of basic math concepts and related reasoning skills. Again, I’m not talking about AP calculus or even freshman algebra here. Instead, this is about Americans constantly being presented numbers that appear to be big or small (or scary or benign, and so on), yet not taking—or not knowing to take—the next step to consider what those numbers actually mean in the specific context at issue and whether we actually need more information to judge their importance. Maybe, for example, a certain figure we see on social media—say, $10,000 or 75 percent—is a really big deal, but it’s often impossible to know without more information. And it takes a certain rudimentary understanding of math (numerators and denominators, timeframes, sample sizes, etc.) to know whether essential information is missing and that we should refrain from judging and sharing (or, in the case of media and government officials, reporting) it until we do. […]

The most prominent recent examples of these difficulties arise in the case of the pandemic and public health policy. Over the last 18 months or so, we’ve been bombarded daily—by reporters, experts (real and imagined), colleagues, friends, and family (especially family)—by context‐​free figures that are often objectively worthless and, even worse, likely to elicit in many Americans precisely the wrong subjective reaction.

America’s Literacy, Numeracy Problems Don’t End in K-12, Global Test Shows, Education Week, November 19, 2019. Excerpt:

On the heels of a troubling “report card” on reading and math skills among American students, a global test of adult skills suggests older generations may echo those problems.

The 2017 results of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies finds that America’s adult workforce is no more skillful in reading, math, or digital problem-solving than it was five years ago, even though more students are graduating from high school.

Every three years, the PIAAC measures the literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving skills of “working age” adults, 16 to 65, in 38 countries, including 23 in 2011-12, and another nine in 2014-15. In both math and digital problem-solving skills, U.S. adults scored significantly below the international average.

Literacy and Numeracy Skills of U.S. Men and Women, US Dept of Education, 2018. Excerpts:

In the PIAAC framework, literacy refers to the ability to read, understand, and use written text in a variety of life situations. Numeracy refers to the ability to understand and use mathematical information in a variety of life situations. […]

Literacy and numeracy scores are scaled between 0 and 500.

The average literacy score among U.S. adults was 272.

The average numeracy score among U.S. adults was 257.

Note: This means that according to the traditional A-F scale in American education, the average US would get an “F” on both literacy (54.4%) and numeracy (51.4%) tests. – J

Americans are spectacularly bad at answering even the most basic math questions, Quartz, March 15, 2016. Excerpt:

When the OECD tested half-a-million 15-year-old students around the world in a test known as PISA in 2012, US teens came in 27th place in math, below their counterparts in Estonia, Latvia, Vietnam, and Spain.

American adults, it turns out, are no more capable. And when it comes to digital problem-solving, they are literally the worst in the developed world.

The Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (Piaac) is a test given to around 150,000 16- to 65-year-olds in 24 developed countries around the world. It is meant to see what skills adults need to function in a knowledge-based economy, both at work and in life, and tests three areas: literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving.

Questions include things like (pdf) “which of these candidates received the least amount of votes,” with a chart listing four candidates and the number of votes they received (the most basic level), and “sort these emails RSVPing to a party into two pre-existing files, people who can come and those who cannot.”


(3) Examples of underlying, institutional sabotage of black and Hispanic children

Even though, as shown in Section (1a), black and Hispanic high schoolers struggle to perform basic math functions, and 90% do not reach math proficiency, as of 2021, 90%  of black students, and 74% of Hispanic students “graduate” from US high schools. 


CUNY embraces mediocrity in the name of equity, NY Post, March 5, 2023. Excerpt:

This began to change as Gotham’s public schools gradually fell victim to cultural change, an avaricious teachers union and profound political neglect.

Social promotion became the rule, and CUNY classrooms began to fill with grossly unprepared students. Back then, just about anybody could walk through the door and take a seat, irrespective of qualifications.

The results were predictable: highly racialized political turmoil and a sharp decline in the university’s already-deteriorating academic standards — and reputation. […]

“Replacing the outdated remedial approach with a more effective, equitable and evidence-based system is an important advance in our ongoing mission to provide our students with educational opportunity,” he proclaimed.

“A large majority of the students assigned to remedial courses were low-income students of color,” he continued, “who were prevented from taking credit-bearing courses and progressing toward their degrees.”

Students were barred from credit-bearing courses because of color? This is pernicious nonsense.

They couldn’t do the work, and — individual effort aside — structural blame goes to the $31-billion-a-year shipwreck now masquerading as a public-school system in New York City.

 

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