Document Type

Research Report

Original Publication Date


Date of Submission

June 2016


For decades, mathematics education in the United States has been a focus of national attention. Since the implementation of the First International Mathematics and Science Study in the mid-sixties, critics have reported on the United States’ global standing on achievement tests. Almost two decades after the first administration of the International Mathematics and Science Study, the widely publicized report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) described various indicators for why the U.S. is at risk for losing its “preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation” (p. 11). These risks include lack of achievement on standardized tests and an increase in remedial mathematics courses taught at public four-year colleges. More recently, results from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have garnered attention. The PISA evaluates 15 year olds from around the world on mathematical literacy, assessing both conceptual and procedural knowledge. On December 3, 2013 the Secretary General for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the governing agency for the PISA, presented the latest results from this test. The secretary general described U.S. student’s mathematics performance as “stark” explaining that very few of them reach proficiency Level 2, which only requires students to solve basic tasks using algorithms and whole numbers. Furthermore, the data show that U.S. students who completed this assessment struggled with tasks that demand complex mathematical thinking. Among the highest-level learners, only 2% of U.S. students reached the maximum performance level (conceptualization, generalization, using and applying mathematics creatively) while the OECD average was 3% and over 30% of the students from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese Taipei and Korea reached the highest level (OECD, 2013).

Is Part Of

VCU MERC Publications

Included in

Education Commons