Research suggests timed tests cause math anxiety

Jo Boaler
Jo Boaler

By Jo Boaler
Professor of Mathematics Education
Stanford University

Teachers in the United States are often forced to follow directives that make little sense to them and are far removed from research evidence. One of the initiatives mandated by many school districts that I place high in the category of uninformed policy is the use of timed tests to assess math facts and fluency. Teachers and administrators use these tests with the very best of intentions, but they use them without knowledge of the important evidence that is emerging from neuroscience. Evidence strongly suggests that timed tests cause the early onset of math anxiety for students across the achievement range. Given the extent of math anxiety, math failure, and innumeracy in the United States (Boaler 2009), such evidence is important for us all to consider. In this article, I summarize the evidence from neuroscience and describe an alternative pedagogical routine that teaches number sense and math fluency at the same time as it encourages mathematical understanding and excitement.

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