For the past three years on average, 40% of 4th graders across Washington State did not meet standards on the math portion of the Washington State Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test. Scores for students in the most economically challenged and diverse communities in the state were far less, averaging around 70% failure rates.
These statistics are similar in the Seattle School district. Only 53% of 4th graders in the Seattle School District have met standards on the math portion of the WASL. The schools in south and central Seattle, some of the most economically challenged areas, averaged only 33% with some schools less than 20%.
The Latest Data:
*Source: OSPI, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Why Does This Problem Exist?
As with many difficult large scale challenges, there is not a single cause for the poor achievement in mathematics in Washington State elementary schools. Similarly, there is not a single magic bullet answer that will fix it. To fully rectify this complex problem, multi-dimensional efforts across the entire educational community, funded at the local, state and national level are required.
In the meantime, there are steps that individual school communities (and even entire districts) can take, on their own, to help reverse the trends. These steps were tested and proven successful with literary initiatives two decades ago.
More Time Engaging in Fun Mathematics
Imagine if… the only time an elementary aged child was encouraged to read was during the 45 minutes of reading class time in school. Would she be a strong reader and lover of books by the time she reached high school?
Imagine if… the only time a child was invited to do math was during math class time at school. Would he really love and understand math by the time he was in high school? Would he ever dream of a career associated with math, such as engineering, architecture or financial analysis?
Whereas the first statement regarding reading seems completely absurd, unfortunately the statement about math is a fact across most of America. Elementary students spend almost no time outside of school playing with, practicing, and experimenting with math. For students in economically disadvantaged communities this truth has real consequences. Nationwide, students entering the 5th grade from lower income communities are 1.5 grade levels behind in math than students from wealthier communities. (Ref. “What if summer learning loss were an educational policy priority?” Ronald Fairchild, Nov. 2002, Executive Director, Teach Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University) A large part of this learning loss has been attributed to the lack of educational activities during school breaks and out of school time.
Looking at the lessons learned from the fight for literacy, we know that it takes more than a student’s 45 minutes of classroom time each school day to develop a love for a subject. Reading with parents at home, consistent visits to libraries, after school reading clubs, and a plethora of books to meet each unique child’s interests are just a few of the activities needed to immerse a child in literacy and to make them a long term reader.
The same is true for math. Children will never learn to love math if their only exposure to the subject is in their school math class. Developing interested mathematicians requires a multi-level approach that can: 1) work in the classrooms, 2) eliminate learning downtime during school breaks, 3) offer after school programs, 4) involve the families, 5) engage the whole school, and 6) support teachers in becoming better math instructors.
Beginning a Lifetime of Eager Learning and Love of Math.
Explorations in Math (EIM) is dedicated to making math engaging and fun for all elementary students. With EIM, schools can help build their students’ confidence, skills, and conceptual understanding of mathematics through:
- Dedicated opportunities to practice, experiment with, and explore mathematics outside of the classroom.
- Math programs that engage the entire school community including families, teachers and administrators.
- Interactive hands-on lessons in the classroom that heighten student interest in math.