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Over the long term, schools could function as community centers with extracurricular programs centered on the mathematical emphasis of the national test. Such activity might have the wider impact of promoting academic achievement in all areas by helping students develop social networks in which academic success is valued. Mobilize the mathematics community in its understanding and support of K-12 mathematics education, in light of the new context provided by the national test. In the short term, the National Science Foundation and other funders should make clear, through their program criteria and announcement, their expectation that, whenever appropriate, mathematics faculty and departments should exhibit commitment to and engagement in the improvement of K-12 mathematics education—as something essential to their own self interest. Also, when possible, all federally funded programs that address issues in mathematics education should involve broad representation of professionals from the mathematical sciences, to include academic and industrial mathematicians and mathematics educators. UNDERLYING CONSIDERATIONS The following considerations about the context in which the action strategy will be developed and undertaken were fundamental to the MSEB discussions that are the basis for this report. We assume that the action strategy developed by the Working Group will build on current efforts. The established activity to improve mathematics education that has been built through the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the initiatives supported by the National Science Foundation and the U. S. Department of Education, as well as many private foundations, together with the many excellent efforts initiated at the state and local school level, should serve as the base and inspiration for this renewed effort to improve mathematics education. These efforts are consistent with the reforms advocated in the NRC reports Reshaping School Mathematics (NRC, 1990) and Everybody Counts (NRC, 1989). In particular, much is to be learned from situations where assessments have been used as the lever for improved mathematics education (such as in the states of Connecticut and Texas). The notion of using assessment as a means of supporting good instructional practice is central in the NRC report Measuring What Counts (NRC, 1993c). Those individuals and groups who have been working to develop standards-based curricula will also have much to contribute to the action strategy design and implementation. Secondly, many of our recommendations for the action strategy are based on the expectation that the national test in mathematics will be consistent with current thinking of experts in mathematics assessment (NCTM, 1995; NRC, 1993c). The MSEB document, Measuring What Counts (NRC, 1993c), provides three principles for assessment which, if upheld in the national test, would also provide direction for the associated action strategy. These are: “The Content Principle: assessment should reflect the mathematics that is most important for
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students to learn. The Learning Principle: assessment should enhance mathematics learning and support good instructional practice. The Equity Principle: assessment should support every student’s opportunity to learn important mathematics” (NRC, 1993c, p. 1). Finally, in order for the proposals for the action strategy to be effective, we assume that the national test in mathematics will convey to students, teachers, and the public a set of high expectations to aspire to in K-8 mathematics. This would mean that the content emphases and coverage of the national test will be consistent with mathematical emphases that are valued in the mathematics and mathematics education communities (NCTM, 1989; NRC, 1990). Because the action strategy will involve teachers and the public, the content emphases and coverage of the national test need to be made explicit and distributed widely, so that teachers, parents, and students will be constructively guided in their local curricular decisions in grades K-8, and in local planning for continuing professional development of teachers. In helping the public to understand the test and the action strategy, the test needs to be presented as a means of focusing on the important mathematical goals of the K-8 grades, and as an initial indicator, not a final grade, of students’ progress toward those goals. We assume also that the test can be refined and adapted over time to reflect the mathematics community’s changing values about assessment practices, about what mathematics students should know and be able to do, and about the effectiveness of the action strategy. It is also our understanding and urging that the mathematics and mathematics education communities will continue to have substantial opportunity to be involved in influential roles throughout the entire process of decision making about test development, implementation, and evaluation. The MSEB will seek ways of facilitating and ensuring this ongoing involvement. CONCLUSION The proposal for a national test of mathematics and the actions associated with that proposal present an opportunity for unprecedented focus on the mathematics experiences of children in grades K through eight. The eighth grade year is a significant one, in that for many students it includes the beginning of their formal study of algebra, a gateway to secondary school mathematics. Of particular importance is the potential for a broad base of support to improve mathematics education, in the areas of teacher professional development, curriculum, technology, and public awareness. These activities represent a unique opportunity for the mathematics and mathematics education communities to undertake concerted and bold efforts toward excellence in mathematics learning for all children.
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