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Chuck Carney
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Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010

NSF provides $1.3 million grant to IU School of Education to analyze U.S. student math performance

Latest 12th grade results from "Nation's Report Card" out Thursday

November 15, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.--The Indiana University School of Education has received a $1.3 million grant for a three-year study analyzing past and present student performance in mathematics.

"What Mathematics Do Students Know? Implications from NAEP for Curriculum and Policy" is a research project headed by Peter Kloosterman, the Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Chair for Teacher Education and a professor of mathematics education at IU. Using data from the NAEP tests -- the National Assessment of Education Progress -- the project will examine what U.S. students know now compared to the last three decades and how performance links to specific math curricula and courses students take in high school.

Peter Kloosterman

Peter Kloosterman

Print-Quality Photo

"It really is just looking at how achievement has changed in mathematics over the last 30 years and how that relates to what has been taught -- where we are doing better and what topics in math do we still need to improve on," Kloosterman said.

Joining Kloosterman in the project are Nathaniel Brown, assistant professor of learning sciences in the IU School of Education; Crystal Walcott, assistant professor of mathematics education at IUPU Columbus; and Doris Mohr, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Southern Indiana.

New data for analysis comes later this week. On Thursday morning (Nov.18), the U.S. Department of Education will release 2009 national mathematics and reading assessment results for the grade-12 NAEP exam, the test often called "The Nation's Report Card." These new results are from the "Main NAEP," one of two types of NAEP exams the project will examine. The other is the "Long-Term-Trend NAEP," which provides consistent questions administered to grade levels over a long period of time.

The long-term test provides a nice baseline for determining historical student performance, Kloosterman said. "The same exact items were used on the test for years, so we can really see how performance of kids today compares to performance of kids back in the 70s," he said.

Importantly, the results of the most recent Main NAEP coming out this week provide not just the latest snapshot of current knowledge but also will begin to gauge more heavily-emphasized mathematics areas using new questions. "Many of the 12th grade items that were used up until a few years ago really covered middle school content," Kloosterman said.

The lack of updated items on the 12th-grade NAEP test may have depressed the performance results over time. "When you look at elementary and middle school students, they're roughly a couple grade levels above where they were at elementary and middle school 20 years ago," Kloosterman said. "That's a big increase."

In contrast, there's no such gain at the high school level, a fact that's puzzled researchers. "Students now are taking more advanced high school mathematics courses than they were 20 years ago, but the test didn't assess the content of those courses," Kloosterman said. "So that's probably part of the reason we don't see as much gain."

Another aspect of the analysis will examine performance from state to state. While Kloosterman said differences in content standards from state to state make direct comparisons somewhat difficult, this project should uncover more detail about how well students are learning mathematics. "For example, one of the things we've noticed is Indiana students do a little better than the nation as a whole," he said. "But when you look at the types of items that they do better on, elementary and middle school students in Indiana do better on the more rote, factual items. Indiana is equivalent to the nation as a whole on the more complex, problem-solving items."

The new study continues Kloosterman's NAEP analysis from a previous NSF-funded project. In 2002 the NSF also granted $1.3 million to interpret NAEP results for teachers and school administrators and use the information to create materials to improve classroom teaching and teacher professional development.

On Thursday he will be available to respond to questions about how to interpret the latest NAEP results. Contact Chuck Carney at the IU School of Education at 812-856-8027 or