Study: Most middle-school math textbooks failing students
By Richard Whitmire / Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON -- Only four of the dozen middle-school math textbooks evaluated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science have been rated "satisfactory."
This study released Friday is the latest of several reports suggesting middle schools are doing a poor job teaching both math and science.
"I think the results of our analysis are yet another example of why the middle grades are such a problem," said Gerald Kulm, who oversaw the evaluation for the Association's Project 2061 -- named for the year Halley's Comet returns.
The questions raised by this study resemble the questions arising from last year's Third International Math and Science Study, TIMSS. That study found U.S. elementary students faring well in international comparisons but 8th-graders scoring poorly.
There are two problems, said William Schmidt, national research coordinator for the TIMSS.
First, middle schools allow students to keep taking warmed-over arithmetic for far too long. Only about 20 percent of U.S. 8th-graders take algebra, compared with nearly 100 percent of 8th-graders in Japan and Germany.
Second, the middle-grades curricula offer a "mile wide, inch deep" approach to both math and science -- serving up far too many topics in too little depth.
The evaluators from the American Association for the Advancement of Science found the same problem.
The worst textbooks, Kulm said, offered a laundry list of math subjects, followed by two pages of drills, followed by the next topic.
Better textbooks, said Kulm, offered students some real-world exercises. Kulm cited one textbook that challenged students to plan a large-scale bicycle tour. Students had to develop bar graphs and charts predicting the cost involved, depending on the number of cyclists and the distance of the tour.
"The main point is they developed their own data," said Kulm, "so they get to the point where they understand what increases when something else increases."
Another criterion used: What guidance does the textbook offer teachers to make sure students absorb the lessons?
The better books offer teachers specific advice on how to design exercises and what questions to ask at the conclusion.
By contrast, one textbook, said Kulm, advised teachers if students don't understand the lesson "they should get together and talk about it."
Each textbook was graded on 24 separate criteria. The top-rated textbook was developed with grants from the National Science Foundation, said Kulm.
There are problems with middle-school math and science beyond a tendency to linger too long on reviewing arithmetic, say experts like Schmidt:
-- Middle schools have the worst track record of teachers who teach out of their specialty field. Many states allow middle-school teachers to use the more general elementary-school credentials. In addition, teachers who majored in math and science are scarce and far more likely to teach at the high school level.
-- The middle-school reform movement, sparked by the Carnegie Corporation's influential, decade-old "Turning Points" report, veered off course. Middle schools adopted the Carnegie advice on making adolescents feel more comfortable at school -- dividing large schools into interdisciplinary teams, for example. But most middle schools never raised academic objectives.
-- Middle-school math tests are far too easy, concluded a study released last year by the American Federation of Teachers. About 90 percent of the questions asked on commonly used 8th-grade math tests fall into the "easy" category, according to an analysis by the teachers union. In the French and German tests studied, about half the questions were rated easy.
-- The middle-school problem worsens in the South: Nationally, 39 percent of 8th-graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress score below basic; in Southern states, 50 percent score below basic, according to a report released last year by the Southern Regional Education Board.
Sue Swaim, who oversees the National Middle Schools Association, encouraged schools to re-examine their curricula.
Referring to the TIMSS criticism about the "mile wide, inch deep" curricula, she said, "Sometimes, they find that less is more."
The four texts passing muster with the group, ranked in order, include: Connected Mathematics (Dale Seymour Publications); Mathematics in Context (Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corp.); MathScope (Creative Publications); and Middle Grades Math Thematics (McDougal Littell).
Those rated as unsatisfactory, also ranked in order, include: Mathematics Plus (Harcourt Brace & Company); Middle School Math (ScottForesman-Addison Wesley); Math Advantage (Harcourt Brace & Company); Heath Passport (McDougal Littell); Transition Mathematics (ScottForesman); Mathematics Applications and Connections (Glencoe/McGraw Hill); Middle Grades Math (Prentice Hall). ---------------------------------------- Copyright 1999, The Detroit News **************************************************
PRESS RELEASE -- AAAS [This accompanied the article above.]
Contact: Eileen Kugler American Association For The Advancement Of Science Phone: 703-644-3039 EKugler@aol.com
Few Middle School Math Textbooks Will Help Students Learn, Says AAAS Project 2061 Evaluation
Anaheim, Calif. -- In a rigorous analysis of 12 middle school mathematics textbooks, only four recently published series received high ratings, while the other more well-established textbooks were rated as unsatisfactory, according to Project 2061, the long-term math and science education reform initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
"The good news is that there are excellent math textbooks now available for middle school students. It is imperative that these books become the textbook of choice in more classrooms if we are to reach our goal of developing students who are math and science literate," stated Dr. George Nelson, director of Project 2061.
The evaluation was conducted by independent analysis teams made up of classroom teachers and college and university faculty who had extensive knowledge of mathematics content and of research on teaching and learning.
Using a procedure developed by Project 2061, the analysts evaluated textbooks on how likely they are to help students achieve six key learning goals from Project 2061's landmark Benchmarks for Science Literacy. These benchmarks are consistent with the widely adopted standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The benchmarks deal with number and geometry concepts and related skills, as well as algebra equation concepts, and algebra graph concepts.
A key feature of the Project 2061 evaluation is its analysis of how successfully the textbooks supported teachers in their efforts to help students learn. The analysis teams reviewed specific instructional strategies that textbooks provide for each benchmark idea or skill. To evaluate the quality of these strategies, the analysts applied a set of 24 research-based instructional criteria to specific lessons, activities, teacher notes, assessments and other evidence.
"AAAS conducted this study because we know that textbooks are the critical link to implementing the curriculum.
Carrying on the mantle of leadership that we assumed a decade ago in publishing Science for All Americans, Project 2061 has made a major contribution to education reform efforts with this standards-based textbook analysis," stated Dr. M.R.C. Greenwood, Chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and President of AAAS.
There are a few excellent middle-grades mathematics textbook series.
The best series contains both in-depth mathematics content and excellent instructional support.
Most of the textbooks do a satisfactory job on number and geometry skills.
A majority of textbooks do a reasonable job in the key instructional areas of engaging students and helping them develop and use mathematical ideas.
There are no popular commercial textbooks among the best rated.
Most of the textbooks are inconsistent and often weak in their coverage of conceptual benchmarks in mathematics.
Most of the textbooks are weak in their instructional support for students and teachers.
Many textbooks provide little development in sophistication of mathematical ideas from grades 6 to 8, corroborating similar findings of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.
A majority of textbooks are particularly unsatisfactory in providing a purpose for learning mathematics, taking account of student ideas, and promoting student thinking.
"States and school districts are bombarded with information from textbook publishers claiming their materials are aligned with benchmarks and standards. The Project 2061 analysis gives busy educators the solid information they need to make informed choices about which textbooks will help their students improve their understanding of and skills in mathematics," stated Dr. Gerald Kulm, who led Project 2061's evaluation. "It's important to note that our analysis describes a textbook's potential for helping students learnÃÂ³to be used effectively, excellent materials require excellent and well-trained teachers."
As benchmarks and standards for student learning become the focus of education reform efforts in more states and school districts, textbooks play an increasingly important role. The National Education Goals Panel, for example, has characterized textbooks as "the nation's de facto curriculum," calling for "an independent and credible 'consumer reports' review service" to inform educators, policymakers, and the general public about "the degree to which instructional materials are aligned with challenging academic standards." This evaluation answers that call.
Findings from the middle school math textbook evaluation were released at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Anaheim, CA, on January 22. Drafts of the technical reports on each of the textbooks are available from Project 2061. This analysis is the first in a series of evaluations of mathematics and science textbooks to be conducted by Project 2061. The benchmarks-based approach to evaluation was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation. Funding for the middle school math book evaluation was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Contacts: Eileen Kugler Jan. 20-24 -- AAAS Press Room in Anaheim, 714-703-0122; Mary Koppal: 202-326-6643 Jan 21-26 -- Anaheim Hilton, 714-750-4321 *****************************************************************
* Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org