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U.S. complacency adds to math woes.

Despite demands to bolster mathematics and science education, a study reported in the Jan. 1 Science finds that U.S. elementary and secondary school students given age-appropriate math tests in 1990 lagged behind their counterparts in Japan and Taiwan about as much as they did in 1980.

Complacent attitudes and beliefs among U.S. parents and students about education contributed considerably to this decade-long achievement gap, which widened between first and eleventh grades, contend psychologist Harold W. Stevenson of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his colleagues.

Based on data collected in 1980 and 1984, Stevenson's team previously found that Japanese and Taiwanese first and fifth graders greatly surpassed their U.S. counterparts on a standardized mathematics test. They also noted that parents of U.S. grade schoolers held lower standards for math achievement and helped less effectively with math homework than did Asian parents.

A 1990 follow-up included 474 eleventh graders living in one of the three countries who had been tested as first graders in 1980, as well as nearly 4,000 additional eleventh graders from Japan, Taiwan, and the United States. About 240 fifth graders in each country also participated in the follow-up. Researchers interviewed nearly all mothers of fifth graders and of the previously tested eleventh graders.

Students completed math tests based on concepts and operations common to textbooks used in each country. Another test probed for general knowledge not usually learned in school. For example, it asked fifth graders to cite two things a plant needs to grow and queried eleventh graders on their notion of the economic concept of inflation. Kindergartners in the three countries also took a version of the general knowledge test.

The disparity noted in 1980 between the math scores of U.S. and Asian students increased for eleventh graders, a pattern that appeared most strongly in an analysis of all students tested rather than just those followed over time. On the general knowledge test, however, US. kindergartners and fifth graders outperformed their Asian counterparts, while eleventh graders scored equally well in all three countries.

U.S. parents said they often read and provided various types of cultural exposure to preschoolers, thus boosting youngsters' general knowledge, Stevenson's team notes. As children grew older, U.S. parents offered fewer such experiences.

In 1990, US. parents still cited greater satisfaction with their children's school achievement and the quality of their children's schools than did Asian parents. The latter group and their children rated hard work as the key to academic success, whereas U.S. parents and students emphasized innate ability
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Title Annotation:parents' role in low U.S. mathematics and science achievement scores
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 9, 1993
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