Policy Implications of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel Final Report

October 16, 2008

Tom Loveless discusses the policy implications of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel’s findings at the federal, state, district, and school levels in a recent interview.

My name is Tom Loveless. I am a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution where I am also a Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy.

My role on the National Math Panel—I was on two of our task groups. I was on the assessment task group, and we looked at general questions involving testing in mathematics, and I was also on the instructional practices task group. The third thing that I did on the Math Panel was chair a subcommittee that surveyed teachers nationally. I think the main policy changes that need to occur that flow from the Math Panel report are in the areas of both standards and assessment. We need to get our standards and our assessment right, and that begins at the federal level but also includes the states. So we need to make sure that we have defined mathematics correctly—and the Math Panel report should help everybody do that— and then secondly, we have to make sure that we are testing the math that we want kids to learn.

So, the first thing the states need to do—and this is a state responsibility—is to review their standards. Every state has math standards, and many of the states have math standards that are so general and vague and do not stipulate what kids need to learn, that I am hoping the Math Panel will be an impetus for them to review those standards, make them more clear and tied to what we recommended in terms of content. And then the second one would be that states also examine their assessments, their tests, to see if the tests are testing that knowledge because a lot of the states are not. And the federal government needs to do the same thing.

On the assessment task group, I think the most important thing that we recommended coming out of the assessment task group was the reform of NAEP. NAEP, which is often called the Nation’s Report Card in the United States, doesn’t do an adequate job of assessing either algebra or those skills that the Math Panel pointed to as being essential for algebra. Currently, NAEP has a strand called number sense or number, and within that are most of the skills that the National Math Panel embraced. So, we would like to see that strand, first of all, divided into two parts: one addressing whole numbers, the second one addressing fractions. And let’s report a score every time we give NAEP on how well are kids mastering fractions at eighth grade. At eighth grade, we would have the emphasis on fractions. At fourth grade, we would have the emphasis on whole numbers. And then, let’s come up with scores so that we can track progress over time with that.

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