Math Education – How Bad Is It?


Globally, after years and years of schooling the majority of 12th Grade students are unable to demonstrate an understanding of math at 12th Grade proficiency.

Math proficiency is what students are supposed to be able to demonstrate at their grade level.

In United States 55% of college freshmen are required to take non-credit remedial math courses in an attempt to improve their math understanding and skills.

This shows the failure of math education for the majority of primary and secondary students. Unfortunately, remedial math courses are largely unsuccessful in repairing the damage.

“Studies have shown that 3 out of every 4 students who take remedial math classes do not graduate from any accredited college within eight years.”

Carol A. Twigg, Ph.D.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) In 2015, approximately 540 000 students completed the PISA assessment of mathematics to assess international student performance of 15-year-olds in the schools of the 72 participating countries and economies.

PISA classifies student proficiency in mathematics into 7 levels.

Level 6 is the highest. Students think mathematically and show that they can conceptualize, generalize and utilize information based on their investigations and modelling of complex problem situations, and can use their knowledge in relatively non-standard contexts.

At Level 5, students can develop and work with models for complex situations, identifying constraints and specifying assumptions.

At Level 4, students can work effectively with simple models of concrete situations that may involve constraints, or call for making assumptions.

At Level 3, students can execute clearly described simple procedures, including those that require sequential decisions.

Level 2 is a level of minimum proficiency to participate in modern society. Students can interpret and recognize conditions that require no more than using easy procedures with simple information. This is 4th grade math proficiency.

At Level 1, students can carry out familiar routine procedures according to direct instructions to arrive at obvious answers.

Below Level 1, students can Not routinely carry out simple arithmetic procedures.

On average, across OECD 72 countries/economies:

Only 2.3% of students are proficient at Level 6

        4.0% of students are proficient at Level 5.

      18.6% of students are proficient at Level 4.

      35.4% of students are proficient at Level 3

      64.6% of students are only proficient at Level 2 or Below.

Should math education depend on where students live?

Students living in some places have more than 100 times better chance of performing at Level 6 than students at other places.


Level 6 proficiency in Singapore is 13.1%, (131 students per 1,000) in Taipei it’s 10.1% in Hong Kong and major cities in China as well as in Japan, Korea and Switzerland Level 6 proficiency ranges between 10% and 5%.

However, Level 6 proficiency in 12 countries/economies, however, is less than 1 in 1000, less than 0.01%.

The following chart shows distribution of math proficiency:

At the lower levels of math proficiency, below level 2, the percentage of innumerate students ranges from a low of 6 % in Korea, to a high of 38 % in United States.

Also, in the United States, as students proceed through school an increasing number of students fall further behind in math proficiency.

In grade 4: 40% of students demonstrated math proficiency at 4th grade level.

In grade 8: 33% of students demonstrated math proficiency at 8th grade level.

In grade 12: 25% of students demonstrated math proficiency at 12th grade level.

The Condition of Education 2017, U.S. Department of Education, page 165


This indicates:

60% of general population students, those without disabilities, performed below Grade Level in the 4th Grade.

When students reached the 12th Grade, 3 of 4 students (75%) performed below Grade Level.


Also, the percent of general population students who perform below Basic Math Level is growing as years of education increase:

14% of students in the 4th Grade perform below Basic Math Level.

21% of students in the 8th Grade perform below Basic Math Level.


National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress


However, for people with disabilities (any kind of disability) the situation is far worse!

Mathematics assessment conducted by the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), 2013.

As a result of their low achievement in math, the opportunities for students with disabilities to excel in an increasingly technology-based society and to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have been limited, and both scientific and human enterprise have been denied the talents and contributions of these students.

Making Standards-Based Mathematics Education Accessible to Students with Disabilities