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Recommendations to Improve High School Student Math Achievement

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics launched a book in April of this year recommending critical changes needed to improve high school student math achievement. Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations (NCTM, 2018) outlines key factors that all education influencers – from administrators to teachers and from university professors to politicians – must consider and work toward.

The key recommendations are basically:

  1. Eliminate student and teacher tracking

  2. Teach all students a set of essential concepts

  3. Provide engaging and empowering math instruction for all students

  4. Offer continuous four-year mathematics in high school

Although a short list of ideas, the authors do not pretend that accomplishing the tasks will be easy. In fact, these ideas challenge some policies and mindsets that have been in place for decades.

As educators dedicated to the improvement of students’ mathematical proficiency, we at Pear are heartened by these recommendations. We give kudos to NCTM for, yet again, asking the education community to be courageous about changing the status quo and to move into uncomfortable territory for the sake of student achievement.

Pear exists to help administrators and teachers fulfill Key Recommendation #3: Classroom instruction should be consistent with research-informed and equitable teaching practices. (See below for more information.) Our coaching services focus on empowering teachers to shift toward effective teaching practices discussed in Principles to Actions (NCTM, 2014). Making these shifts requires planning, vulnerability, and reflection, as well as expert guidance, time, and support. When your school or district is ready to tackle this challenge, Pear is ready to partner with you and your teachers on this journey.


Lisa J. Bernstein

From the executive summary of Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations:

Executive Summary PDF

Providing students with more rigorous instruction requires improvements in teaching practices. Because mathematics teaching involves not only supporting students to learn concepts and develop skills and understanding but also empowering students to see themselves as capable of participating in and being doers of mathematics, improvements in teaching practices must address not only ways to make mathematics more accessible to students but also ways to support students in seeing themselves as knowers and doers of mathematics.

Therefore, improvements in teaching practices must consider mathematical identity and agency as essential constructs for raising the mathematical achievement and strengthening the mathematical disposition of each and every student. The ways in which students experience mathematics have a significant impact on the ways in which they identify themselves as doers of mathematics. By implementing research-informed and equitable instructional practices, teachers can significantly improve the experiences and learning outcomes of students. To support teachers in these improvement efforts, Catalyzing Change uses the eight Mathematics Teaching Practices articulated in Principles to Actions (NCTM 2014) as a framework for making connections between high-leverage teaching practices and the development of mathematical identity, agency, and competence.

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