Are students finally learning math basics?
Researchers say they are proud to see the results of recent research showing gains in the use of STAR tests in eighth grade math after the tests were revamped. However, a closer look at the data suggests that STAR testing needs to be refined.
In a study of math STAR tests taken in schools during the 2011-2012 school year, researchers from Stanford University found that STAR testing helped increase the number of eighth graders using vocabulary words (e.g., “clapping”) and fractions (e.g., “slice”).
For eighth grade math, STAR scores were designed to tell teachers what students had learned the previous year and whether students had acquired the skills needed for algebra in the spring. STAR tests measure school-based scores of “visual representations,” or comparing students’ representations of concepts with other students’.
The researchers found that increases in how often students used words like “clapping” and “fraction” may have been linked to higher STAR scores on the math SAT tests that are provided to students who did not take the STAR test. More words may have also correlated with the number of students who used fractions.
“Such associations give teachers the valuable information needed to provide instruction in a way that is both timely and targeted to the patterns in test scores,” said Michelle A. Fallon, professor of educational psychology at Stanford University. “The evidence is clear that incorporating other information gained by teaching math in the classroom is going to be good for school-wide performance.”
According to Howard R. Gardner, director of the Stanford Center for Assessment and Research on Learning at Stanford University, students in the United States are behind other countries when it comes to learning basic math skills. The report shows students here are also behind peers in countries around the world in their use of vocabulary words and complex fraction calculations.
“Our findings reflect the general pattern of the United States’ performance on the global math surveys. Students here are trailing other nations by about 3-4 years in acquiring fundamental arithmetic skills, particularly fractions, and about 2 years in basic vocabulary,” said Gardner.
The report was co-authored by Anthony D. McGeorge, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Maryland.
The scholars used data from the University of Maryland Longitudinal Study of Education, a study in which 1,847 eighth grade students from North Carolina participated between 1976 and 1987. The National Assessment of Educational Progress and the “Standardized Tests of Basic Skills” have been used to examine U.S. mathematics performance for more than a decade.
The study of STAR testing was published in the November edition of the journal Mathematics Education.