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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy Current Context for Mathematics and Science Education In the late 1980s, "state and district policy makers (along with many professional subject matter associations and private foundations) turned their attention from the number of academic courses to the quality of the core academic content being taught in public schools" (Massell et al., 1997, p. 1). The standards movement-as launched by the work of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and continued in science by the National Research Council (NRC)-is an impetus and tool for this redirection of attention. It is a vehicle for moving toward Goal 5 of the National Education Goals-"By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement." Now, in the late 1990s, attention is focused again on the quality of core academic content. President Clinton has called for a national voluntary test in eighth grade mathematics and has directed the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education to prepare an action strategy for the improvement of K-8 mathematics education. Mathematics and science education continue to benefit from high levels of visibility and attention in the public and policy arenas. Some of the current attention to mathematics and science education is the result of international comparisons. The release of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) reported that U.S. eighth grade students were slightly below average in mathematics and average in science achievement in comparison with their counterparts in more than 40 other countries around the world (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 1996); fourth graders were average in mathematics and above average in science (NCES, 1997). TIMSS also reported on factors that may influence mathematics and science performance, including the nature of educational systems, the role of curriculum, time spent in school, and the breadth and depth of topics covered in school mathematics and science programs. National and international benchmarking, which can draw from the goals of standards, is a focal point for public policy discussions of education at the state level. Results from TIMSS and from the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (O'Sullivan, Reese, & Mazzeo, 1997; Reese et al., 1997) have stimulated discussions of how well students are doing in mathematics and science in comparison to those in other countries and states. A study of tests taken by high school students around the world, conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the National Center for Improving Science Education (AFT & NCISE, 1997), has furthered the discussion of whether our expectations for students are sufficiently high. At the same time, barriers and challenges to reform of science and mathematics education have persisted. Achieving public consensus has at times been problematic (Massell et al., 1997). Throughout the reform literature there is discussion of the need for teacher professional development to support the proposed changes of the standards documents (NCTM, 1991; Zucker, 1997). Textbooks and instructional materials are also needed as support for standards-based reform (Tyson, 1997). Questions of how teacher and student motivation and beliefs interact with reform and issues of administrative support merit further examinations as potential challenges to reform (Tyson, 1997). There is current debate in the field about the directions and goals of mathematics education reform. This debate is due, in part, to different interpretations of the NCTM Standards-e.g., whether the Standards pay attention to basic
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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy skills. The debate might also be viewed as an effort to promote a more balanced perspective about what is important in mathematics teaching and learning. Various organizations have been established, such as Mathematically Correct, that are calling for alternative goals in mathematics education to those promoted in the NCTM Standards documents. Research mathematicians have been commenting extensively on their views about K-12 mathematics education (Andrews, 1997; Bass, 1997). The NCTM Standards revision process, through its Association Review Groups, provides an organized means of gathering various points of view, which will be considered in the revision process. The differences in views and values that are emerging in these mathematics debates are likely to remain visible at the state and local levels in the processes of reconsidering mathematics and science education reform. In a general way, events that are calling attention to mathematics and science achievement have special promise for directing renewed attention to mathematics and science standards, in particular the relationships between national and state standards. The March 1996 Education Summit of the nation's governors and business leaders focused attention on the topic of state standards. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has conducted a review of state standards describing characteristics of state standards and frameworks (CCSSO, 1997a). On July 1, 1997, the National Education Goals Panel's ACHIEVE panel began its work on assessing the quality of voluntarily submitted state-level standards. Specific activities in mathematics and science education, both ongoing and new, also contribute to this moment of opportunity. The National Science Foundation's systemic initiative efforts at the state, city, and regional level-as well as similar efforts supported by states and local communities-are infusing resources into the system and involving large numbers of mathematics and science teachers, together with the business community and the public, in focused work on high standards for the learning and teaching of all students (Zucker, 1997). The stage is set for continued work on standards-based education throughout the country. Significant portions of the mathematics and science education communities have focused their energies on standards; national and international studies of student learning point to progress, but identify areas that require substantial improvement as well; and national, state, and local resources are being directed on reform of all components of the system. The National Education Goals Panel has provided the NRC and NCTM with a rare opportunity: to pause and reflect on the past, and suggest specific ways to move forward the states' agendas of high standards for all students. Although both the NRC and NCTM can provide support for these agendas, the steps necessary to ensure widespread implementation of standards-based education must now be taken by state governments. The recommendations in the following section are intended to suggest productive directions for states.
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