Designing mathematics standards in agreement with science

J Hartman, S Hart, EA Nelson*, PA Kirschner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


To learn mathematics, historically students had no choice but to memorize fundamental facts and apply memorized algorithms. Since 1995 in the US, all states have adopted standards to govern K-12 mathematics instruction, and in most, standards have de-emphasized memorization and emphasized reasoning based on concepts. This change assumed the brain could reason in mathematics without relying on memorized knowledge. Scientists who study the brain have recently verified this assumption was mistaken. Due to stringent limitations in working memory (where the brain solves problems), mathematical problem-solving of any complexity requires applying well-memorized facts and procedures. A decade after the implementation of standards in most states, US young adults ranked last in testing in mathematics among 22 nations. Changes are proposed to state K-12 standards, which recent scientific research suggests would substantially improve student mathematics achievement.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberem0739
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Electronic Journal of Mathematics Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • K-12 instruction
  • US K-12 mathematics standards
  • Cognitive science
  • Grade 1-4 instruction
  • Working memory limits


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