What If Math Wasn’t About Acing the Test?

How would math education change if parents, teachers, and students, weren’t so focused on grades and test scores?

Let’s imagine what that might look like…

  • Kids spared from high-pressure timed-tests
  • Kids spared from incessant practice worksheets and flash cards
  • Kids no longer forced to answer questions they never even thought to ask
  • Teachers no longer pressured to “teach to the test”
  • Kids no longer burdened by the fear of wrong answers

With the time we would save, we could…

  • Let kids ask their own questions instead of answering questions they weren’t even interested in yet
  • Let students share their thinking and honor their creative ideas
  • Give students more opportunities to explore and play

As a result, we could raise a generation that actually appreciated mathematics.

Would we end up with more scientists, engineers, or entrepreneurs?

Would we find more people willing and able to tackle the big problems that face our economies and our planet?

I know some of you are thinking this is crazy! Grades matter; we can’t get rid of them!

How would we rank kids and rate teachers and schools without tests?

How would we choose who gets into college without the SAT and ACT?

How can we be sure that everyone knows enough math to balance their checkbook (no one does that anymore!) or calculate tips and discounts?

You say, just teach math the traditional way. I learned math that way, why can’t everyone else?

I would agree, except there is one extremely important reason we can NOT afford to do it the old way; the old way left millions of intelligent, thoughtful, and curious people behind.

It left them thinking math wasn’t for them. That is an enormous waste of human potential. We can’t afford to keep letting that happen!

Today, in the quest for good grades and test scores, we force kids to memorize their facts, master algorithms, and push them through math courses that they’ll probably never need.

A select few make it through today’s school math experience and still enjoy math.

But, is it any surprise so many people decide they don’t want to do math after they finish school?

It’s time to rethink the experiences students have in the math classroom. It’s time to give students freedom to explore, to encourage them to ask questions, and help them discover the joy of doing mathematics.

If we don’t focus on changing attitudes, we’ll never make lasting progress.

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