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Challenge to Traditional Mathematics Curriculum

By Deborah Williams

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Researchers have uncovered one reason why American high school students may not perform as well as their global peers around the world.  The researchers, professor in the College of Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, James Tarr, and professor emeritus, Doug Grouws, found “high school students in the United States achieve higher scores on a standardized mathematics test if they study from a curriculum known as integrated mathematics.”  An article on the Science Daily website reports that this finding was the result of their study of more than 3,000 high school students across the country.

Integrated mathematics is a combination of mathematics topics—algebra, geometry, and statistics, for example—into one course.  American high school mathematics courses typically include one yearlong course for each topic (e.g., Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, pre-Calculus, etc.).  Like students in many of the high-achieving countries who study math from a more integrated curriculum, Tarr and Grouws found that American high school “students who studied from an integrated mathematics program scored significantly higher on standardized tests administered to all participating students, after controlling for many teacher and student attributes.”

Tarr acknowledges that these findings challenge the traditional high school mathematics curriculum.  He asserts that those views simply are not supported when student performance is measured as it was in this three-year study of educational outcomes for students studying from different types of mathematics curricula.

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