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Why Are Minn. 4th Graders Testing Well In Math? They’re Confident

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(credit: CBS) Angela Davis
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When it comes to math, Minnesota students aren’t just making the grade. Our fourth graders are now actually among the top scorers in the country.

The National Assessment of Education Progress gives a test to randomly-selected students every two years. It found Minnesota fourth graders are tied with students in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for number one.

On Thursday, I spent some time in a classroom to get a look at the challenges math teachers and students face.

Jan Williams teaches fourth grade at Expo Elementary in St. Paul. When it’s time to tackle math, she often breaks out games, like blocks, to help students visualize what she’s teaching.

“Math has to be more hands on if you want the kids to actually understand the concepts,” Williams said.

It’s important to instill confidence, she said, because if students start to believe they’re not good at math, they stop trying to learn.

“You need them to believe that they have capability, because if they don’t believe that, as soon as you start teaching something, you have immediately lost the child and they shut down,” she said.

There’s a wide range in what fourth graders are studying in math class, from addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, to decimals and fractions. Some are even doing pre-algebra.

“In this school we ask for and get a lot of parent volunteers,” Williams said. “That also helps a great deal, because kids can get individual help when the teacher runs out of time.”

Dr. Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota’s education commissioner, says teachers are spending more time sharing with one another what works well and what doesn’t.

“It’s getting teachers talking about their practice and working together collaboratively,” Cassellius said.

Minnesota eighth graders did well on that national test, as well. Their math scores ranked fourth in the country.

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