Executive Summary

The National Education Goals-set by the President and the nation's governors in 1989 and endorsed by two presidents, the U.S. Congress, and key business leaders-place a high priority on achievement in mathematics and science by all our nation's students. The national standards for mathematics education developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and for science education developed by the National Research Council (NRC) have played an important role in helping states address those national goals. This report recommends specific, decisive actions to further state efforts as they guide and support local educators to reform mathematics and science teaching and learning in their schools.

The NCTM's Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989), Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (1991), and Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (1995a) and the NRC's National Science Education Standards (1996a) provide a vision for what students should know and be able to do and what educators need to do to support that learning. At a time when international comparisons have renewed attention to the need for a coherent, powerful direction for science and mathematics education, it is useful to examine how state initiatives can draw from the national standards as they continue their progress in reform.

The NCTM and NRC have pursued a variety of activities to place the national standards in the hands and minds of those across the nation with responsibility for and interest in mathematics and science education. Their strategies are described using a framework that includes:

  • dissemination of standards to key individuals, agencies, and districts;

  • interpretation of the standards, that is, providing background, briefings, examples, and supplementary materials to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of standards and standards-based curriculum and the role of standards in educational improvement;

  • implementation of changes in curriculum programs; in criteria for selection of textbooks; in recruitment, certification, and continuing education of teachers; and in state and local assessments of students' progress;

  • evaluation of changes to monitor and adjust policies, programs, and practices to increase their impact; and

  • revision of the standards in response to changing needs and data on their impact.

The strategies used by the NCTM and NRC have established a national foundation for state reform initiatives, which have taken as many directions as there are states, and made steady progress towards the goal of standards-based education. But the task does not end with national standards. There is substantial progress yet to be made, and realizing the goals described in national standards is now in the purview of state governments. Given their constitutional responsibility for education, the states must act vigorously, in order to ensure widespread implementation of standards-based education. This report suggests that the progress currently being made should be continued and, indeed, strengthened in the specific areas of curriculum, textbooks and other instructional materials, teaching and assessment, and building the infrastructure for improvement within states. The following recommendations are offered to state-level policy makers, including governors, state legislators, state school boards, chief state school officers, and state mathematics and science supervisors:



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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy Executive Summary The National Education Goals-set by the President and the nation's governors in 1989 and endorsed by two presidents, the U.S. Congress, and key business leaders-place a high priority on achievement in mathematics and science by all our nation's students. The national standards for mathematics education developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and for science education developed by the National Research Council (NRC) have played an important role in helping states address those national goals. This report recommends specific, decisive actions to further state efforts as they guide and support local educators to reform mathematics and science teaching and learning in their schools. The NCTM's Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989), Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (1991), and Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (1995a) and the NRC's National Science Education Standards (1996a) provide a vision for what students should know and be able to do and what educators need to do to support that learning. At a time when international comparisons have renewed attention to the need for a coherent, powerful direction for science and mathematics education, it is useful to examine how state initiatives can draw from the national standards as they continue their progress in reform. The NCTM and NRC have pursued a variety of activities to place the national standards in the hands and minds of those across the nation with responsibility for and interest in mathematics and science education. Their strategies are described using a framework that includes: dissemination of standards to key individuals, agencies, and districts; interpretation of the standards, that is, providing background, briefings, examples, and supplementary materials to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of standards and standards-based curriculum and the role of standards in educational improvement; implementation of changes in curriculum programs; in criteria for selection of textbooks; in recruitment, certification, and continuing education of teachers; and in state and local assessments of students' progress; evaluation of changes to monitor and adjust policies, programs, and practices to increase their impact; and revision of the standards in response to changing needs and data on their impact. The strategies used by the NCTM and NRC have established a national foundation for state reform initiatives, which have taken as many directions as there are states, and made steady progress towards the goal of standards-based education. But the task does not end with national standards. There is substantial progress yet to be made, and realizing the goals described in national standards is now in the purview of state governments. Given their constitutional responsibility for education, the states must act vigorously, in order to ensure widespread implementation of standards-based education. This report suggests that the progress currently being made should be continued and, indeed, strengthened in the specific areas of curriculum, textbooks and other instructional materials, teaching and assessment, and building the infrastructure for improvement within states. The following recommendations are offered to state-level policy makers, including governors, state legislators, state school boards, chief state school officers, and state mathematics and science supervisors:

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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy 1. State infrastructure Strengthen the state infrastructure for improvement in mathematics and science education with coherent, focused standards and with the policies, structures, and resources to support their achievement. 1-A Develop high standards for all students, through consensus, including a process for periodic review. 1-B Build a coherent system for mathematics and science education within the state in which every component and level of education is aligned and has a common goal: that all students will meet these high standards. 1-C Establish a long-range plan for improvement that involves the broader community as well as mathematics and science educators and provides sufficient support for local educators as they work to implement the standards. 1-D Ensure that state-level leadership positions in mathematics and science education exist and are filled by staff with expertise in the disciplines and in supporting change. 1-E Provide guidance and policy support to districts and schools in restructuring the use of school time to create opportunities for teachers to work together for improvement of mathematics and science education in their system. 2. Textbooks and other instructional materials Develop policies and strategies that promote the use of standards-based textbooks and other instructional materials and that build state and local capacity for selecting and using the materials appropriately. 2-A Implement state policies that support the development of selection criteria for instructional materials based on standards and consistent with curriculum frameworks. 2-B Commission evaluations of textbooks and other instructional materials and disseminate results to local adoption committees. 2-C Implement professional development programs that help school personnel effectively select textbooks and other instructional materials and integrate them into the science and mathematics curriculum and instructional practice. 3. Curriculum Structure policies and support to focus districts and schools on designing science and mathematics curricula that are high-quality, well-articulated, and standards-based. 3-A Provide technical, financial, and material support to local districts for the design and implementation of programs in which all students have opportunities to meet standards for mathematics and science. 3-B Base high school graduation requirements, university placement tests, and university admission requirements on standards. 3-C Put in place in every school classroom new technologies that support standards-based teaching and learning of mathematics and science. 4. Teaching Create policies and practices to ensure that well-qualified, highly competent teachers, whose

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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy practice is grounded in the mathematics and science standards, are in every elementary school, mathematics, and science classroom in the state. 4-A Accredit only teacher preparation programs that reflect the recommendations of mathematics and science standards. 4-B Incorporate as a requirement for licensing that teachers demonstrate teaching practices that are based on standards and are appropriate to the particular learning situation. 4-C Support the continuing professional development of accomplished teachers through mechanisms such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. 4-D Fund ongoing, high-quality professional development opportunities for teachers of science and mathematics based on standards for student learning and professional teaching. 5. Assessment Establish testing and assessment programs consistent with the goal of high expectations for all students to learn standards-based mathematics and science. 5-A Ensure that assessments of student learning are aligned with standards-based curriculum and assessment principles. 5-B Develop at the state level, or encourage local districts to develop, strong accountability systems that go beyond single-measure tests. 5-C Collect and use information about learning conditions and the opportunities students have to learn. 5-D Assist schools and the general community to understand and use the results of assessments and develop action plans based on results. 5-E Promote teacher assessment and student self-assessment in classrooms, based on standards. These recommendations represent some ways to blend the experiences and strategies of the NCTM and NRC, as developers1 of the national standards, with those of the states, as the nation moves towards its goals of high achievement in mathematics and science for all students. The magnitude of the task of reform cannot be overestimated, nor can its potential benefit to our nation's youth. 1   Throughout this report we have used the term "developer" as an abbreviation for the role that the NCTM and NRC played in the national mathematics and science standards, respectively. The intent is neither to indicate nor to imply that these organizations or their staffs developed the standards themselves. Instead, as described at length in the discussions of the development and dissemination of the standards documents, these organizations orchestrated the work of thousands of individuals and groups who contributed to the development and critique of the standards.