Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel
The Mathematics Advisory Panel, created by President Bush in 2006, was charged with making suggestions to improve America’s math education and student achievement using the best scientific evidence available. In their report, Foundations for Success, the panel calls on the U.S. secretary of education to “take the lead” in implementing the report’s recommendations and working with the diverse groups that play a role in student success, such as local and state school personnel, parents, textbook writers and publishers, test development organizations, teacher preparation programs, etc.
The report focuses on Algebra proficiency and states that it relates to success for citizens in college, graduate or professional school, and their careers. Furthermore, the nation’s safety, economic health, and international competitiveness rely on a workforce that is well-educated in Algebra and further mathematics. In order to achieve improved student performance in Algebra, the report contains the following six “Principal Messages.”
- The mathematics curriculum in grades pre-K–8 should be streamlined and should emphasize a well-defined set of the most critical topics in the early grades.
- Use should be made of what is clearly known from rigorous research about how children learn, especially by recognizing a) the advantages for children in having a strong start; b) the mutually reinforcing benefits of conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and automatic (i.e., quick and effortless) recall of facts; and c) that effort, not just inherent talent, counts in mathematical achievement.
- Our citizens and their educational leadership should recognize mathematically knowledgeable classroom teachers as having a central role in mathematics education and should encourage rigorously evaluated initiatives for attracting and appropriately preparing prospective teachers, and for evaluating and retaining effective teachers.
- Instructional practice should be informed by high-quality research, when available, and by the best professional judgment and experience of accomplished classroom teachers. High-quality research does not support the contention that instruction should be either entirely “student-centered” or “teacher-directed.” Research indicates that some forms of particular instructional practices can have a positive impact under specified conditions.
- NAEP and state assessments should be improved in quality and should carry increased emphasis on the most critical knowledge and skills leading to Algebra.
- The nation must continue to build capacity for more rigorous research in education so that it can inform policy and practice more effectively.
Thanks to vice chair Camilla Persson Benbow, Dean of Education at Vanderbilt University and a leading researcher in gifted education, the report contains specific recommendations for mathematically gifted children, which follows:
Teaching Mathematically Gifted Students
The Panel’s review of the literature about what kind of mathematics instruction would be most effective for gifted students focused on the impact of programs involving acceleration, enrichment, and the use of homogeneous grouping. Although many syntheses and summaries of research in these areas have been conducted, our searches yielded surprisingly few studies that met the Panel’s methodologically rigorous criteria for inclusion; thus for this section we relaxed these criteria to fulfill the charge of evaluating the “best available scientific evidence.” The Panel could formulate its recommendations only on the basis of one randomized control trial study and seven quasi-experimental studies.
These studies have limitations. For instance, motivation is a confounding variable, just as it is a selection criterion for being considered a candidate for acceleration. The Panel’s key findings are the following:
- The studies reviewed provided some support for the value of differentiating the mathematics curriculum for students with sufficient motivation, especially when acceleration is a component (i.e., pace and level of instruction are adjusted).
- A small number of studies indicated that individualized instruction, in which pace of learning is increased and often managed via computer instruction, produces gains in learning. Gifted students who are accelerated by other means not only gained time and reached educational milestones earlier (e.g., college entrance) but also appear to achieve at levels at least comparable to those of their equally able same-age peers on a variety of indicators even though they were younger when demonstrating their performance on the various achievement benchmarks.
- Gifted students appeared to become more strongly engaged in science, technology, engineering, or mathematical areas of study. There is no evidence in the research literature that gaps and holes in knowledge have occurred as a result of student acceleration.
In the case of gifted (or academically advanced) students who are advanced in their skill and concept attainment and can learn new material at a much more rapid rate than their same-age peers, it is the professional judgment of those in gifted education that they need a curriculum that is differentiated (by level, complexity, breadth, and depth), developmentally appropriate, and conducted at a more rapid rate.
Support also was found for supplemental enrichment programs. Of the two programs analyzed, one explicitly utilized acceleration as a program component and the other did not. Self-paced instruction supplemented with enrichment yielded the greater benefits. This supports the widely held view in the field of gifted education that combined acceleration and enrichment should be the intervention of choice.
Recommendation: Mathematically gifted students with sufficient motivation appear to be able to learn mathematics much faster than students proceeding through the curriculum at a normal pace, with no harm to their learning, and should be allowed to do so.
There is a need for more high-quality experimental and quasi-experimental research to study the effectiveness of interventions designed to meet the learning needs of gifted students. Especially vital are evaluations of academically rigorous enrichment programs.
It is important for school policies to support appropriately challenging work in mathematics for gifted and talented students. Acceleration, combined with enrichment, is a promising practice that is moderately well supported by the research literature, especially when the full range of available literature is considered.
The full report is available at: www.ed.gov/MathPanel.
“Principle Messages” and “Teaching Mathematically Gifted Students” reprinted from: National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, U.S. Department of Education: Washington, DC, 2008.
- Dowload Foundations for Success www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-report.pdf
- National Mathematics Advisory Panel www.ed.gov/MathPanel.