# No Surprise, Children Don’t Understand Math

In the past, I have questioned the extent to which we really suck at math in the U.S. While I’m still a bit skeptical that the average child in developing countries is doing dramatically better than children in the U.S., one thing is pretty clear from our results to date, and that is that the average child living in poverty** in the U.S. is doing pretty darn bad when it comes to math.

About a week ago, I discussed the results from a test on fractions given as part of our Fish Lake game evaluation. The pretest score was around 22% correct. Not terribly good.

There were also two questions where children had to explain their answers:

Zoongey Gniw ate 1/3 of a fish. Willow ate 1/3 of a different fish. Zoongey Gniw said that he ate more fish. Willow says that he ate the same amount as she did, because they both ate 1/3 of a fish. Explain to Willow how Zoongey Gniw could be right.

Explain why each of the above figures represents ONE-FOURTH.

Answers were scored 2 points if correct, 1 if partially correct and 0 if incorrect.

Out of 4 points possible, the mean for 260 students in grades 3 through 7 was .42. In other words, they received about 10% of the possible points.

These two questions test knowledge that is supposed to be taught in 3rd grade and 96% of the students we tested were in fourth grade or higher.
PUH-LEASE don’t say,

“Well, those are hard questions. I’m not sure I could explain that.”

If that is the case, feel sad! These are easy questions if you understand basic facts about fractions. “Understand” is the key word in that sentence.

SO many people, including me, when I was young, simply memorize facts and repeat them when prompted, like some kind of trained parrot, and with no more understanding.

When understanding of mathematics is required, they fail. Yes, some of the items tested under the new Common Core standards are harder. That doesn’t show a failure of the standards or tests, but rather of the students’ knowledge.

This is one of those cases where “teaching to the test” is not a bad idea.

** The reason I limited my statement to children living in poverty is that the schools in our study had from 72% -98% of their students receiving free lunch. Being a good little statistician I don’t want to extrapolate beyond the population from which our sample was drawn.

local_offerevent_note June 27, 2015

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