OPINION: It’s time to stop the clock on math anxiety. Here’s the latest research on how

New research shows that levels of math anxiety have a .75 correlation with students’ enjoyment of math, and .64 correlation with motivation to take more math or do well in math. These are shockingly high proportions. (Data drawn from the PISA 2012 database, graph adapted from Foley et al, 2017.)

Our future depends on mathematical thinking, but math trauma extends across our country – and the world – due to the ineffective ways the subject is often taught in classrooms, as a narrow set of procedures that students are expected to reproduce at high speed.

In a newly published paper, researchers showed not only that math anxiety was negatively related to performance in 63 of the 64 countries tested in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), but also that the highest achieving students had the most striking negative relationship between math anxiety and performance.

It’s one of the important findings on the brain and mathematics learning that has profound implications for students’ achievement in math.

Unfortunately math continues to be taught in ways that are far removed from the research evidence on ways to teach well, and many ineffective classroom practices – timed tests, speed pressure, procedural teaching – are the reasons for the vast numbers of children and adults with math anxiety. They are also the reason that so many high-achieving students leave not only mathematics but the numerous STEM courses that require mathematics. Ashcraft and Krause (2007) found that math anxiety severely impacts student’s ability to enjoy math, motivation to take more math or do well in math.

Widespread, prevalent among women and hugely damaging, math anxiety is prompted in the early years when timed tests are given in classrooms and it snowballs from there. Psychologists’ recommendations — including counseling and words to repeat before a test — severely miss the mark. The only way to turn our nation around is to change the way we teach and view math. The problems that we have now include these:

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