Perhaps this story is familiar to you. I teach in North Carolina, where the state mandates curriculum for every subject and every grade, which teachers are required by law to follow. The state also mandates an end-of-grade testing program for grades 3 through 8 and end-of-course testing for grades 9 through 12. These tests, of course, are based on the prescribed curriculum. School systems, individual schools, and, to some extent, even individual teachers are evaluated on students' scores on these tests. Obviously, this structure leaves little freedom for individual schools or teachers to spend much time outside the mandated curriculum.
The good news, however, is that this lack of freedom is pushing needed curriculum changes. The state implements new math curricula every five years, which also has changed the corresponding testing program. These changes include testing students on their abilities to use the calculator as a tool for solving problems, to communicate mathematical ideas with words and drawings, and to solve various types of problem situations. To gain time for teaching such operations and processes, we have deemphasized mastery of basic skills that can be done by calculators. It's more important for students to be able to take a problem situation, organize it for input into the calculator, and use the resulting answers or graphs for data analysis and prediction. As we move toward more of this kind of mathematical thinking, it's obvious that classrooms must nourish the development of the Habits of Mind.
Supporting the Habits of Mind