Responding to Calls for Change in High School Mathematics

By H. Schoen and C. Hirsch

In The American Mathematical Monthly, 110(2), pp. 109-123


This article provides an overview of mathematics reform in high school, and reports on research evidence related to the Core-Plus Mathematics Project (CPMP), one of the new NSF-funded curriculum projects, including its effectiveness in preparing students for the study of collegiate mathematics.

The authors discuss the recent history of mathematics reform in high school, pointing out the links between reform efforts in high school mathematics and recommendations from the mathematical community.

An impressive list of studies using a range of achievement measures to compare CPMP students to comparable students in more traditional high school mathematics curricula is provided. This research is summarized as follows:

"Thus, research to date indicates that CPMP students perform particularly well [and better than the comparison students] on measures of conceptual understanding, interpretation of mathematical representations and calculations, and problem solving in applied contexts. Their performance is also relatively strong in content areas like statistics and probability that are emphasized in the curriculum. On measures of algebraic manipulative skills, CPMP students usually, but not always, score as well as students in more traditional curricula." (p. 114)

Students' readiness for continued study of mathematics at the collegiate level is also addressed. The authors provide a detailed summary of a study of student performance on a mathematics placement test used at a major university. 164 students who completed four years of CPMP were compared to students who had completed precalculus in a more traditional curriculum. The placement test did not allow the use of calculators and was compiled from an item bank developed by the American Mathematical Association. They summarize the results as follow:

"On the algebra subtest, the means of the [traditional] precalculus students and the CPMP Course 4 students were virtually identical. On the intermediate algebra subtest, the mean of the precalculus group was greater than that of the Course 4 group. The only statistically significant difference in means was on the calculus readiness subtest (t = 4.93, p <0.01). That difference favored the CPMP students." (p. 116)

This article might be helpful in addressing concerns that mathematicians hold about the reform movement in high school mathematics.

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