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Math anxiety

By John Published: May 16, 2011

Education Week has an interesting story about math anxiety that reports some of the research discussed at this year's Learning and the Brain conference in Chicago.

''People are very happy to say they don't like math,'' said Sian L. Beilock, a University of Chicago psychology professor and the author of Choke, a 2010 book on brain responses to performance pressure. ''No one walks around bragging that they can't read, but it's perfectly socially acceptable to say you don't like math.''

Mathematics anxiety is more than just disliking math, however; someone with math anxiety feels negative emotions when engaging in an activity that requires numerical or math skills. In one forthcoming study by Ms. Beilock, simply suggesting to college students that they would be asked to take a math test triggered a stress response in the hypothalamus of students with high math anxiety.

Ms. Beilock and other experts at a Learning and the Brain conference held here May 5-7 are searching for the earliest problems in a child's math career that can grow into lifelong fears and difficulties. The conference, put on by the Needham, Mass.-based Public Information Resources, Inc., brought together several hundred educators and administrators with researchers in educational neuroscience and cognitive science.

That anxiety will become more real here in Ohio as the passing rates for achievement tests in math ratchet up to meet the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind. The Columbus Dispatch has the story here.
The federal goals, known as "adequate yearly progress," are meant to force schools to improve in math and reading in every tested grade each year. But Ohio, along with 22 other states, "backloaded" its improvement targets.

The need for speedy improvement will be especially pronounced in the three grades where this year's math goal is still below 70 percent passing. At least 57.8 percent of seventh-graders were expected to pass math proficiency tests in the past three school years. This school year, the goal jumps to 68.4 percent.



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