Why have US children’s scores in science, reading, and mathematics fallen since 2009?
The Programme For International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial survey conducted among 15-year-old students in order to determine their skills and knowledge in the areas of science, reading, and math. The test is administered on the computer and takes each student about two hours to complete.
In 2015, the PISA survey was conducted by assessing approximately 540,000 students, representing the 29 million students in schools located in 72 participating countries.
When it comes to assessing students’ math skills, PISA defines mathematical literacy as the capacity to “formulate, employ, and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts.” This includes “reasoning mathematically and using mathematical concepts, procedures, facts, and tools to describe, explain, and predict phenomena.”
US students are trailing behind international students
The scores for the United States in science, reading, and mathematics have fallen since 2009. And although all three scores have fallen in the last seven years, the most significant drop has been in math. Here are three possible reasons for the decline:
1. A school structure that doesn’t work with changing family life
Years ago, kids could come home from a long day at school and receive extra help and support from their parents. If their parents didn’t understand their math homework, they could hire a tutor for their child who would come over for a few days during the week. This worked well when the economy was stable, but when the market crashed in 2008, everything changed.
One of the reasons math scores could be declining could be that family situations have changed and some parents have had to take on extra jobs just to provide for their family. This means some parents may not be available to help their kids at home when they need help with their homework assignments. And they may not be able to afford a tutor.
Although many parents cannot afford a personal tutor for their child, the internet makes it easy to access resources that can help. For example, you can have your child learn high school geometry online and choose from a variety of lessons in order to expand their knowledge in the specific areas where they’re struggling. The lessons are designed to be learned in order, but they can be cherry picked, especially when the student is already learning the subject in school and just needs supplemental help.
Often students get stuck in a cycle of hating math because they’re not good at it, and they can’t get better at it because they’re not good at it. A supplemental resource outside the classroom could be the solution to break that cycle.
2. Psychotropic medication inhibits cognitive function
According to a report released by the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of children in the US being prescribed anti-depressants increased by 400% between 1988 and 2008. These statistics show that one in ten Americans is on some form of anti-depressant, which includes one in every 25 adolescents.
As funding for mental health is being severely cut, more kids are being prescribed anti-depressants than ever before. While there is a debate as to whether medication does more harm than good, the fact remains that it has been shown to significantly decrease cognitive ability, among other things.
Being able to perform well in math as well as other academic areas requires cognitive function, and anti-depressants could be a contributing factor to the decline in scores.
3. Lack of nutrition
Nutrition is an important aspect of cognitive function, and it’s something many kids don’t get enough of. Without feeding the body the proper amino acids needed to synthesize proteins, and other components needed to regulate healthy brain chemistry, kids aren’t able to function at their highest potential.
A lack of nutrition does more than starve the body – it starves the brain, and when the brain is starved, cognitive function is severely diminished.
Proof that mathematical ability lies dormant within all of us
In his book, Struck By Genius, Jason Padgett describes his experience with being beaten in a bar fight and sustaining a serious head injury that transformed him from a serious party animal who cheated on all of his tests with no interest in math, to an absolute mathematical genius who literally sees PHI and sacred geometry in nature everywhere he looks.
While not everyone can wake up one day with an acquired savant syndrome like Jason Padgett, it is possible to increase the cognitive function of our children by providing them with the extra help they need, and making sure they are eating well and feeding their brain with the right nutrients. This might be where to start to tackle the problem of declining academic scores in the US.
Featured image credit: greg westfall / flickr