America has a problem with Mathematics and English language

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Oct 29, 2015 13:12 IST
Mathematical skills of American children have declined for the first time since 1990 in a nationwide test . (Shutterstock)

Mathematical skills of American children have declined for the first time since 1990 in a nationwide test administered every two years to monitor the quality of school education. Their proficiency in Reading, a subject roughly the equivalent of English language in Indian schools, also dipped, but not as alarmingly perhaps as in Maths.

The results of the test, called National Assessment of Education Progress, announced on Wednesday were significant enough to get top play by all major news outlets. “Nationwide Test Shows Dip in Students’ Math Abilities,” read a headline in The New York Times. The Washington Post said, “US student performance slips on national test.”

“It’s obviously bad news,” Michael J Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B Fordham, a right-leaning education policy group in Washington, told the Times. The Times also noted, “The dip in scores comes as the country’s employers demand workers with ever-stronger skills in Mathematics to compete in a global economy.”

The shortfall of employers with such skill-sets are being met with imports from abroad, workers on H-1B — and students on F-1 — from countries such as India and China. The tests are administered to fourth-graders and eighth-graders, who, however, are not judged by them — scores are used to assess their schools, counties and states instead.

The dip in scores this year were attributed to several factors, chiefly a standardised national curriculum called “Common Core State Standards Initiative” introduced n 2009. It seeks to standardise school education — kindergarten to 12 — all across the United States. It has been adopted by more than 40 states, and has turned controversial with opposition from some.

Some of the questions in the tests came from sections not included in the new guidelines under the Common Core initiative, and students obviously had not learnt them. Other factors contributing to the dip in scores, specially Reading, included a fast-rising proportion for students from non-English speaking background such as Hispanics.

Also those coming from poorer families — they are less prepared for school, and often struggle with other challenges such as hunger and insufficient attention at home because parents are doing multiple jobs.

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