The Importance of Standards in us Mathematics Education

Did you know that your state controls what your children learn? Most states write standards for each subject area. Some states “enforce” these standards with state tests. The results of these tests can cost a teacher his or her job or keep a child from graduating. While it is important to have set guidelines for what a student learns each year, there’s a lot of gray area and politics that go into your state’s standards.

In North Carolina, money is not considered a mathematical topic. Any textbook publisher wanting their books to be adopted in North Carolina will leave the topic of money out of the textbook in order to comply with North Carolina’s math standards. Where do North Carolinian’s learn about money – in social studies class, of course.

In Connecticut, children don’t need to know their basic multiplication and division facts until the end of the sixth grade, while in California, this skill is expected to be mastered by the end of the fourth grade. Which students do you think will get farther in math?

In Texas, students don’t work with fractions until the fourth grade. At this grade level they barely get the opportunity to add fractions with common denominators. They can only do this addition with blocks or pictures. They aren’t even introduced to multiplying and dividing fractions until 7th grade. How far do you think these students will get in solving complex fractions in Algebra?

States’ standards have a long history. These standards were originally set to meet the needs of businesses in the state. The state considered the type of jobs that needed to be filled and prepared their students accordingly. It’s only in recent years that states have changed their standards to fit a more global market. But when funding was tied to the results of state tests, standards changed again. Some states lowered their standards in order to insure that all students would pass the test. This also insured Federal funding.

Because of the large gap between standards across the U.S., it makes more sense to develop a set of standards for the entire nation. Think of the student whose family moves from Connecticut to California. The child could easily be held back a year not due to being a poor student, but because of being taught under less rigorous standards. More importantly, we need to take into account the math students need in order to get a job anywhere in the United States, not just in the state where they currently reside.

Standards, like rules in a game, are a good thing. But it only makes sense that we all play by the same rules.