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U.S. parents score low on math help.

Elementary school students in the United States generally score below their counterparts in Japan and Taiwan on mathematics achievement test--a trend that has helped spur calls for reform in U.S. mathematics education. However, the problem lies not just in the classroom but also at home, according to a report in the September JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY. Parents of U.S. grade schoolers tend to evaluate their children's math skills less critically, provide less effective help with math problems and hold lower standards for math achievement than do parents in Asia.

In two studies directed by psychologists David S. Crystal and Harold W. Stevenson, both at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, experimenters interviewed a total of 2,205 mothers of either first- or fifth-graders. Roughly equal numbers of these mothers lived in the United States, Japan or Taiwan.

Compared with the Asian mothers, significantly fewer U.S. mothers believed their children had serious mathematics difficulties, although the U.S. youngsters scored substantially below the Asian children on math examination administered by the researchers. Reports from U.S. mothers indicated that they provided less math assistance to their first-graders than did the Asian mothers. U.S. mothers of fifth-graders asked other family members for help with a child's math problems less often than their Asian counterparts. Both U.S. and Asian mothers reported that fathers seldom served as children's main source of math help. Siblings assisted the grade schoolers frequently in Asia but rarely in the United States.

In both studies, U.S. mothers said their youngsters' math problems mainly involved calculation and drill-based procedures, such as multiplication tables, whereas Asian mothers usually described difficulties with more complex, applied problems. Some of this difference may stem from the greater frequency of drills on basic math operations in Asian classrooms, as well as more interaction between teachers and students in Japanese schools, Crystal and Stevenson maintain.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 5, 1991
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