YOUR HEAVY AMMUNITION

THE INVISIBLE CRISIS

A worried parent, carer or teacher may well feel anxious if she or he needs to face a formidable authority figure – such as a school governor or an MP – so may not always put their case as well as they might, much to their later exasperation.

Here are some publications that may not all be described as light reading, but which can be ready to support your case.

A GLOBAL PHENOMENON

The following impressive study proves that Maths Anxiety is a global problem.

THE MATH ANXIETY-PERFORMANCE LINK: A GLOBAL PHENOMENON

By Alana E. Foley (1), Julianne B. Herts (1), Francesca Borgonovi (2), Sonia Guerriero (2), Susan C. Levine (1), and Sian L. Beilock (1)

(1) Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, and
(2) Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris, France

Demand for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals is on the rise worldwide. To effectively meet this demand, many governments and private organizations have revamped STEM education and promoted training to enhance math and science skills among students and workers.

Education and training programs typically focus on increasing individuals’ math and science knowledge. However, data from laboratory studies and large-scale international assessments suggest that fear or apprehension about math, math anxiety, should also be considered when trying to increase math achievement and, in turn, STEM career success. This article reviews findings that shed light on antecedents of math anxiety, the bidirectional math anxiety-performance relation, underlying mechanisms, and promising routes to mitigating the negative relation between math anxiety and math performance.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Survey of Adult Skills reveals that numeracy skills are used extensively in work settings worldwide. Across participating OECD countries, 38% of workers aged 16 to 65 report using fractions at work at least once a week, 29% simple algebra or formulas, and 4% advanced math (OECD, 2013a). Moreover, the demand for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals is predicted to increase. Consequently, many countries are interested in enhancing STEM education (BBC, 2013; Lacey & Wright, 2009).

To equip students with high levels of math and science knowledge, increased attention is being devoted to understanding why some countries are better at advancing math and science achievement than others (Mullis et al., 2012; OECD, 2009; Shimizu & Kaur, 2013). Much of this work has been driven by the idea that learning is a function of instruction time and quality. Accordingly, researchers have sought to understand how to maximize these factors (Dettmers, Trautwein, Lüdtke, Kunter, & Baumert, 2010; Scheerens & Bosker, 1997). However, recent evidence points to an often-ignored factor that may shape how well students are able to benefit from learning opportunities: math anxiety—the fear of, or apprehension about, math (Ashcraft & Kirk, 2001).

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Exciting results from Chicago

Data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests 15-year-olds’ academic achievement worldwide, shows that math anxiety is negatively related to math performance both within and across countries. In 63 of the 64 education systems that participated in PISA in 2012, students reporting higher levels of math anxiety displayed lower levels of math performance than their peers who reported lower levels of math anxiety (OECD, 2013b). Averaging this effect across participating countries, a one-unit increase in the PISA math-anxiety index for a given student corresponds to a 29-point decrease in his or her math score (medium effect size, Cohen’s d = 0.32; OECD, 2013b).

Countries with higher-than-average student math per- formance also tend to have lower-than-average student math anxiety (OECD, 2013b; Fig. 1). For example, Switzerland is above the mean of participating countries’ math performance (0.34 SD) and below the mean in math anxiety (−0.32 SD). At the other extreme, math achievement in Thailand is below the mean in math performance (−0.81 SD) and above the mean in math anxiety (0.55 SD). On average, accounting for GDP, a 1-unit difference in country-level math anxiety corresponds to a 73-point score gap on the math assessment (large effect size, Cohen’s d = 0.81).

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WHERE DOES MATHS ANXIETY START?

If you read a medical dictionary, you will quickly convince yourself that you suffer from every possible disease except tennis elbow. Be warned. It is hoped that everything everyone needs to know is in the following list of deeply depressing situations – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it applies to you.

Challenging surroundings are always a possibility, so here is a useful check list from The American Academy of Pediatrics, in this guide on mental health for primary care providers.

The guide suggests that commonly occurring stressful events in a youngster’s life can lead to common behavioural responses.

(Source: The Centre for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA, USA)

Environmental Situations and Potentially Stressful Events Checklist

Challenges to Primary Support Group
Challenges to Attachment Relationship
Death of a Parent or Other Family Member
Marital Discord
Divorce
Domestic Violence
Other Family Relationship Problems
Parent-Child Separation

Changes in Caregiving
Foster Care/Adoption/Institutional Care
Substance-Abusing Parents
Physical Abuse
Sexual Abuse
Quality of Nurture Problem
Neglect
Mental Disorder of Parent
Physical Illness of Parent
Physical Illness of Sibling
Mental or Behavioural disorder of Sibling
Other Functional Change in Family
Addition of Sibling
Change in Parental Caregiver
Community of Social Challenges
Acculturation [adaptation to a new culture]
Social Discrimination and/or Family Isolation
Educational Challenges
Illiteracy of Parent
Inadequate School Facilities
Discord with Peers/Teachers
Parent or Adolescent Occupational Challenges
Unemployment
Loss of Job
Adverse Effect of Work Environment
Housing Challenges
Homelessness
Inadequate Housing
Unsafe Neighbourhood
Dislocation
Economic Challenges
Poverty
Inadequate Financial Status
Legal System or Crime Problems
Other Environmental Situations
Natural Disaster
Witness of Violence
Health-Related Situations
Chronic Health Conditions
Acute Health Conditions

This study suggests that such potentially stressful situations may lead to negative feelings and effects

Feelings
anxiety
feeling stressed
apathy
inattention
aggression
fear of specific situations
low self-esteem

Effects
negative behaviour
poor works skills and habits
decrease in academic achievement
scholastic demoralisation
school failure

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED IN 60 YEARS?

This is a formidable piece of work. The distinguished educational psychologist, Dr. Ann Dowker was lead researcher on this summary of the publications produced worldwide in the last 60 years by academics on Maths Anxiety.

Dr Dowker has a special interest in the application of research in psychology to education and especially the development of intervention programs for children with mathematical difficulties. Dr Dowker is the lead researcher on the Catch Up Numeracy intervention project, with funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust and the Caxton Trust. This is an individualized intervention programme for primary school children who are low achievers in mathematics.

Dr Dowker is also a member of the Advisory Review Group for the ‘Every Child Counts’ project. She prepared reports for the Government in 2004 and 209 on “What works for children with difficulties in mathematics?”

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