New National Study Affirms PA’s Approach to Math Instruction

Secretary Zahorchak calls findings a ‘call to action’ for educators, parents, communities

HARRISBURG – Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak said a new national report examining the best practices for teaching and learning mathematics should serve as a “call to action” for Pennsylvania schools to continue reinvigorating math curriculum.

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel spent more than two years reviewing the best available scientific evidence to advance the teaching and learning of mathematics. The panel released its final report last week.

“This important and enlightening report should be read not just by education leaders, but also by all members of our communities, from students and parents to teachers and business leaders,” Secretary Zahorchak said. “It should serve as a call to action as we prepare our children for the challenges of the new global economy.”

In a letter to local school officials, the secretary noted the panel’s findings affirm Pennsylvania’s approach to teaching mathematics. A panel of esteemed mathematicians and educators found merit in building a curricular framework that focuses on basic math concepts and competencies – in essence, taking a deeper, more focused approach to mathematics essentials.

Secretary Zahorchak also noted the report debunks a longstanding myth among some parents and educators that some students do not have an aptitude for math.
“Mastering math is possible in the same way students learn to read — through practice and encouragement from parents and teachers,” the secretary said. “It’s all about the effort.”
Among the report’s recommendations:
• Schools must teach number and math concepts early.
• Schools must help students believe they can improve their math skills.
• Students should be able to fully comprehend algebra concepts by the time they graduate from high school.

Pennsylvania has existing and pending initiatives to accomplish these goals, according to Secretary Zahorchak. Record investments in early childhood education and a greater attention to teaching math and science at the elementary grades are giving children an earlier introduction to math, while Pennsylvania’s ongoing high school reforms are ensuring our graduates have the math skills needed to compete in the increasingly technological, knowledge-based global economy.

“The national report also indicates Pennsylvania is moving in the right direction by adopting graduation requirements that will ensure our students are prepared for success,” Secretary Zahorchak said.

The State Board of Education recently gave preliminary approval to regulations that would ensure high schools students are well-prepared in algebra and several other core subject areas before they graduate. The panel’s report found students who do well in algebra are more likely to succeed beyond high school.

The findings also support the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s commitment to promote research validated instructional practices such as cooperative learning – an approach in which students work collaboratively to evaluate, analyze and problem-solve.

Beginning in the fall of 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, at Secretary Zahorchak’s direction, initiated the creation of Standards-Aligned Systems for mathematics, literacy, science and social science. The initiative began with mathematics and now involves educators from across the state in all four disciplines.

These Systems are designed to provide a repository of resources and supports that are researched-based and aligned to Pennsylvania’s academic standards. In each discipline, the teams of educators continue to refine the “Big Ideas” of their disciplines and to supply a targeted list of concepts and competencies that all students must achieve as they progress through the K-12 experience.

“We are making great strides in the right direction,” the secretary said. “This report underscores how far we have come in preparing our students for success, but it also emphasizes the work we must continue to do.”

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel report is available through the U.S. Department of Education Web site. For more information on the commonwealth’s educational efforts, visit the Department of Education Web site.

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