Debate has raged for years over whether today's students rely too heavily on calculators. But there is general agreement that students ready for college need to know the standard math algorithms - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division - and have a deep understanding of math concepts.
They should know how to use a graphing calculator, how to compute without one and be able to determine when using one will help them solve a problem.
It's also important for students and parents to know that college instructors' policies vary widely. Some always allow students to use calculators for tests and some don't. And calculators are not allowed in the Graduate Record Exam required to enter many graduate school programs.
By GreatSchools Staff
Your high-school student is on track to complete the math classes required by your state university. He may even have already passed the high school exit exam that your state requires. Does that mean he's prepared for college math?
Of the students in the high school class of 2006 who took the ACT for college admissions, less than half tested at a level indicating they would earn a C or higher in college algebra, the ACT reported. In another survey, one released in 2005 by the national nonprofit Achieve Inc., college instructors estimated that half of their students were inadequately prepared to do college math. (To see these PDF files, you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download here.)
A significant number of these students probably wound up taking remedial math once they got to college. That means it is likely to take them longer and cost them more to get their college degrees. Studies also show that they are at higher risk for dropping out of college altogether.
At a time when an increasingly competitive global marketplace has focused attention on the need for math skills and when students are taking more standardized tests than ever, how did so many students graduate so unprepared?
Some of them didn't take enough math, some took the wrong math and some managed to pass the classes without learning the math. The high school exit exams many of them passed were designed to test 10th-grade skills, not college readiness.
The statistics are scary. They've prompted finger-pointing by educators and government officials, and they've also spurred the creation of programs aimed at improving students' readiness for college math.
Professor W. Stephen Wilson, who teaches freshman calculus at Johns Hopkins University and is also a former senior advisor for mathematics in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, answers the question this way:
"Arithmetic. You really have to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide with pencil and paper, do ratios, propositions and percentages, and work multi- step word problems that apply arithmetic."
Then he ticks off the list of classes a college-bound student should take: "Algebra I, geometry, algebra II and some trig."
Be sure your student takes algebra I and above - not business math, consumer math or general math.
If your child took her first year of algebra in the seventh or eighth grade, she is likely to be able to fulfill minimum admissions requirements for all but the most selective colleges by the end of her junior year. The idea of taking a break from math in her senior year might sound pretty appealing.
Bad idea, say math professors and researchers.
"A gap without math will make taking whatever math they have to take in college extremely difficult," says Wilson.
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