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Declining Mathematics Proficiency: A Math Problem Worth Solving

Updated on March 14, 2012
jpcmc profile image

I'm a dad, husband, and Christian first. The rest are just life's add-ons: an educator, administrator, learner, & development professional.

Do you hate math?
Do you hate math? | Source

The Sad Reality

You don’t need to be a math genius to appreciate math. Likewise, it does not take life-altering trauma to hate it. The truth is math isa huge problem for many students. The boardeducationUnited States is ranked 25 out of 30 when it comes to mathematics. The data came from the 2006 PISA math assessment of level 6 students. On the other hand, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) puts the United States at 11th position in a survey done in 2007. For this ranking, grade 8 students were used in the study. No matter what statistics you look at, it is obvious that math is not a favorite of many students.

Math Class in Taiwan
Math Class in Taiwan | Source
Year-end math exam in India
Year-end math exam in India | Source

Teacher Problems

So what is happening? Why are students failing in math? The National Commission on Math and Science Teaching in the 21st Century a.k.a. Glenn Commission was tasked to answer this question. More than that, the commission was tasked to propose ways to combat the decline. The commission, after their study concluded that the culprit to America’s continued math slump is the lack of teacher training.

Moreover, only 41% of 8th graders are taught math by teachers who are math major. Compared to other countries, the figure shoots up to 71%. This disparity clearly shows how disadvantaged grade 8thstudents are when it comes to math.

The statistics are startling! But what is more important to contemplate on is why it got this bad.

Curriculum Concerns

Another factor in the decline of student performance in math is the curriculum. Is there enough foundational training for students? With a subject like math, mastering the basics is paramount. Unfortunately, students move up without fully mastering the necessities. As such, they are not equipped to handle more complicated mathematical problems and operations.

It is no wonder why failure rates increase as the students go up the educational system. Of course there are those who shine out. But the cause for concern is the increasing numbers who fail.

Do you think there is a decline in math proficiency among students?

See results

Meaningful Math

Dr. James Asher Ph.D. Emeritus Professor of Psychology, San Jose State University San Jose, California comments that the failure in math is brought about by the “assumption that problems make sense to students”. This underscores the lack of proper teaching strategies and understanding of the student. Truly, math is an abstract subject. Teachers must recognize the level of understanding of the students in order to provide meaningful examples and problems.

Are you afraid of math?
Are you afraid of math? | Source

Math Anxiety

The Math Anxiety Rating Scale is a tool used to determine the level of anxiety a student has. Now, let’s contemplate on this for a moment. We actually have a scale and a tool to measure math anxiety. The problem then must be truly grave! According to the developers of the scale, math anxiety is a feeling of stress when manipulating numbers or solving problems. Moreover, the situation in which tension is felt is not confined in the classroom. In fact, math anxiety can be experienced anywhere and anytime.

Math anxiety involves 3 domains. The first is social and motivational. This focuses on the student’s circle of influence – family, friends and society as a whole. How the students behaves towards math is directly related how his circle influence behavior. On a simplified scale, if the circle of influence hates math, chances are, the student will also hate it.

The intellectual and educational domain on the other hand deals with the student’s cognition. Math involves specific skills and knowledge. As such, the student’s perception on his success or failure in acquiring these skills is considered.

Lastly, the psychological and emotional domain focuses on the student’s emotional capacity. Moreover, the student’s reaction to stress is given emphasis here. The ability to handle stress can cope with the rigors of mathematics.

In Retrospect

Students have to contend with teachers without ample qualifications. Also, they are forced to learn using a curriculum that does not scaffold learning. Furthermore, we have the student’s sphere of influence that greatly impact his behavior towards math. In addition, the students own cognition and emotional domains that affect his future with math. The truth is there is no single reason to pinpoint.

The question now is what to do to rectify this decline.


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    • jpcmc profile imageAUTHOR

      JP Carlos 

      4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello Blackspaniel1

      Math is fundamental. Having a good grasp of the basics can help build understanding on more complex mathematics. I have a 3 year old daughter and we start early. When more people realize how important math skills are, they will not wait for what the education system is offering. They will make their own ways to support their child's learning.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image


      4 years ago

      I have watched the decline. I teach college level math, and the basic skills are more lacking by the year. Somewhere along the line some people decided that if you have a calculator that is all you need. The logic thought process mathematics develops is no longer being adequately addressed. And as these weaker math students move into lower level classrooms they propagate the problem. Nice that some people care enough to sound the alarm.

    • jpcmc profile imageAUTHOR

      JP Carlos 

      5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello me, thank you for including my work on your paper. J.P. Carlos

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hello, jpmc. I would like to use this article in my high school research. If you'll allow me to, then could I please have your name so I can credit you properly? Thanks.

    • jpcmc profile imageAUTHOR

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello John MacNab,

      MAth can really be tricky eespecially you if you fail to master the basics. i'm not really fond of math but I use it everyday - especially statistics. I was forced to lear it on my own (or at least recall what my teachers taught me). Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experience.

    • John MacNab profile image

      John MacNab 

      6 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      When I was a schoolboy, jpcmc, I was quite comfortable with maths until I was sick for a couple of months. When I returned to school I found that the class had progressed through to Algebra and trigonometry. Naturally enough, the teacher couldn't spend any time teaching me on my own. Since then I have been confused about maths.

    • jpcmc profile imageAUTHOR

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello Danette. thank you for reading and sharing. Parents defnitely have an important role in their children's education.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      My husband and I made sure our kids could do problems without a calculator. I enjoyed math although I wasn't always good at it. I think some teachers do girls a disservice in school I remember when I was in 8th grade, my teacher Mr. Boss (yes, that was his name, and my niece had him many years later) was not helpful to the girl students in the class and didn't like that my dad gave me tutoring at home. Once I caught on to the particular lessons I was having trouble with, I started showing some of the other students and then he REALLY didn't like me for that! LOL

      I agree, without a good strong foundation and an understanding of the basics, you can't build on it.

    • jpcmc profile imageAUTHOR

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hi there radhikasree. ALthough technology aids us in mathematics, we sould never foret the basics. Thanks for reading and commenting. Also, I appreciate the positive clicks on the hub. :) see you around.

    • radhikasree profile image

      Radhika Sreekanth 

      6 years ago from Mumbai,India

      I also support your thinking on Maths basics that serves as a climbing stone to reach the solution. Teacher also is supposed to be proficient in Maths. I experienced this when I reached High School.

      I agree with sofs too in the matter of using electronic equipments for solving Maths from childhood itself. This also can hinder children's mind power and calculating abilities. Nice hub. Up, useful and interesting.

    • jpcmc profile imageAUTHOR

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello sofs. I used to work for Kumon Philippines which is a supplemental education program focusing on Math and reading. The core of the program is mastering the fundamentals. Like what you've said let's go back to the basics. With mastering the basics how can we expect students to muve up the ladder.

      Thanks for sharing your ideas. Have a blessed day.

    • sofs profile image


      6 years ago

      Jpcmc, Math was my bete noire because my mom a math teacher would punish me every time I got something wrong... LOL I hated that subject... most teachers cannot get to a child's level and teach it from there.. The foundations really have to be strong to build upon in the middle school and high school levels.. Let us get back to the basics...

      Another thing I have noticed is that when children are allowed to use calculators they tend to get lazy and refuse to let their minds think in different ways.. here in India children are never allowed to use calculators in school and are much better for it.

      Thanks for sharing this. Have a lovely day.


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