The Mathematical Association of America
Maryland-District of Columbia-Virginia Section
Mathematical Preparedness of Incoming College Freshmen
Preface by Lee May, Past Chair of the MD-DC-VA Section:
The mathematical preparation in high school of students who are planning to go to college has long been of interest to me. Consequently, when I was asked to chair the Maryland/District of Columbia/Virginia section of the Mathematical Association of America, the only plank in my platform was to present the members of the section with an opportunity to issue a statement regarding what knowledge, skills, experiences, and attitudes they would like to find in the possession of incoming first-year students at the colleges and universities of the section. The members of the section were, it seemed, as eager as I to produce such a statement, and in the summer of 2003 requested the formation of an ad hoc committee to that purpose. Under the superior guidance of Professor Denny Gulick of the University of Maryland, the committee, consisting of representatives of the secondary schools, two- and four-year colleges, and universities in the MD-DC-VA section, produced the statement which follows. The statement was unanimously approved by the members of the section at their November 2004 meeting.
The statement is an attempt to clarify what mathematical skills and attitudes we members of the section hope to find in students entering college or university -- whether the students choose to major in mathematics or not. The statement is aimed at students in secondary (and, to a lesser extent, middle) schools; their parents, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, and county supervisors of mathematics instruction; and, last but not least, the offices of admission at the colleges and universities in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland. It is our hope that the statement -- which appears on the section website at www.math.vt.edu/org/maa -- will contribute to the enhancement and enjoyment of the learning and teaching of mathematics at the secondary level. If that outcome is achieved, we are confident that the learning and teaching of mathematics at the post-secondary level will be similarly enhanced.
Members of the Ad-Hoc Committee
Statement on Mathematics Preparedness: MD-DC-VA Section of the MAA
Recently mathematics teachers from secondary schools and two- and four-year colleges in the Maryland-District of Columbia-Virginia region have been discussing issues relating to students as they enter college. The issues relate both to students' attitudes toward mathematics and student potential for success in college mathematics courses.
Presently large numbers of students are deemed unready (by virtue of their scores on placement tests) to take college-level mathematics courses when they enter college. Moreover, to many students entering college, mathematics consists of obtaining answers rather than understanding the concepts, reasoning out appropriate approaches to problems, and thinking about the validity of answers derived.
In light of these observations and concerns, we offer to the mathematical community, and especially to students, parents, guidance counselors, and college and university admissions officers, the following thoughts concerning mathematical programs in pre-college classes.
In conclusion, the best mathematics preparation for college is continuous coursework throughout high school that fosters a strong background in algebra and geometry, and brings an ability to solve multi-step "word problems" and an open and positive attitude towards problem solving in general.