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Topic: Middle-school textbooks failing students
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Middle-school textbooks failing students
Posted: Jan 27, 1999 12:07 AM
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Detroit News, Saturday, January 23, 1999

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

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

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

"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

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

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

"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.

Good News:

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.

Bad News:

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 learnóto 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:
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)

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