Slightly more than half of Ohio students proficient in math, according to state report cards

By: - October 2, 2023 4:50 am

Students in a classroom. Getty Images.

The math isn’t adding up for nearly half of Ohio’s students. 

Fifty-three percent of Ohio students were proficient in math last school year, according to the new state report cards, a slight bump from 2021-22, but still lagging behind pre-pandemic scores when 61% of students were proficient in 2018-19. 

“Unfortunately, we live in a society where it’s OK to be bad at math,” said Michael Huler, Ohio Mathematics and Science Coalition’s chair-elect. “No one’s afraid to say, ‘I was just not a math person.’ No one is going to say, ‘Oh, I just don’t read.’”

Emphasis on Literacy

This comes at a time when literacy has received so much attention.

Ohio schools are implementing the science of reading which is based on decades of research that shows how the human brain learns to read and incorporates phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Gov. Mike DeWine spent months advocating for the science of reading, which he signed into law as part of the state’s budget this summer.  

“Obviously math skills are incredibly important and anytime you see an emphasis there’s always a concern that other areas are going to be left behind,” said Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper. “There is a concern that as you put a huge focus on literacy, will there be less of an emphasis on math?”

The science of reading provisions in the budget include $86 million for educator professional development, $64 million for curriculum and instructional materials, and $18 million for literacy coaches. 

“I do think it’s still an emphasis in the state, we’re just not hearing as much about it as we are hearing about literacy because it is such a big part of the budget,” Cropper said. 

However, she is leery of having legislation related to math.

“We need to make sure that all learning is relevant,” Cropper said. “I think part of the struggle with teaching math is that it’s taught out-of-context of how it’s used. … When we give them authentic learning opportunities and they see how what they are learning is going to be used, then they tend to learn it at a deeper level.” 

Literacy skills go hand-in-hand with other school subjects, like math. 

For Angie Theaker’s oldest daughter, currently in eleventh grade, math is her strongest subject. But because she is dyslexic, the math word problems can be challenging for the Upper Arlington high school student.

“Her reading disability was actually really negatively impacting her confidence in math,” she said. “As you get more advanced in math, it’s word problems. If you can’t read and you’re not scoring well in math, it’s not necessarily a problem performing in math.” 

Help at home

Parents can have a tough time helping their students with math.

“Every parent can read to their child and help their child that’s having an issue with a reading and encourage them to read,” Huler said. “Not every parent can help with the math.”

That learning gap can happen early on for parents.

“I don’t think you have to get to trigonometry and calculus before parents start seeing a gap between English language arts and and math,” said Greg Foley, immediate past-OMSC chair. “I think it starts at least by fifth grade.”

That may partly be because parents learned math differently.

“The way math is taught now, based on conceptual learning instead of memorization, is different from what was taught to the parents,” OMSC Chair Nancy Sattler said. “It’s a conceptual understanding and the critical thinking skills that teachers need to instill in their students.”

Students who don’t feel confident in math are less likely to participate in class, Huler said. 

“If you don’t participate, you’re not going to gain the knowledge, it’s part of learning the concepts, and you can’t learn concepts by sitting and listening,” he said.

NAEP scores 

Low math scores are part of a national trend.

Ohio was one of 43 states to see decreases in fourth-grade mathematics scores and one of 51 states to have declines in eighth-grade math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. More than 224,000 fourth-graders and more than 222,000 eighth graders were tested nationwide and the NAEP test scores were published last fall. 

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.



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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.