Report: To improve middle school math performance, Florida should take math more seriously

After Florida’s middle school students performed poorly on the 2015 NAEP math exam, the 2017 legislature authorized a study to examine what the states with the highest performing middle school students were doing differently from Florida.

That report has now been released by Insight Policy Research.

For math, several discussion threads in the report seem to lead to a single conclusion:  If Florida wants its middle school students to perform better in math, the state has to start taking math more seriously.

Of the five major recommendations, two directly address the state’s neglect of middle school math education.

The report’s second recommendation is this:

Consider a focus on mathematics instructional practices. While Florida’s reading standards set high expectations relative to the skills necessary for high NAEP achievement levels, the standards in mathematics are below those identified in four comparison states based on NAEP skill levels (Bandeira de Mello et al. 2015).  Given the resources invested in reading in Florida, further attention on mathematics curriculum and instructional practices may improve average student achievement in mathematics, particularly in the near term.

The fourth is this:

Address teaching and instructional practices through increased attention to teacher training initiatives. Evidence notes the significant role teachers play in supporting and improving student performance in reading and mathematics. Florida has lower rates of teachers with postsecondary degrees in mathematics and reading relative to the six comparison states. Florida may consider developing statewide, content-focused professional development opportunities for middle grades teachers in particular, and expand or modify existing alternative certification programs to recruit more mathematics teachers with content-specific training.

In the body of the report, the authors list this “key finding”:

On average, Florida students are less likely to be in schools with a mathematics
resource teacher relative to the comparison states and about as likely to be in
schools with a reading specialist.

In short, the “Just Read!” state has to start taking math as seriously as it takes reading if it wants its students to have the math skills necessary to succeed in our new technological economy.

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