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The Inclusion of Numeracy in Adult Basic Education

Volume 3: Chapter Five
Dave Tout, Mary Jane Schmitt

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In their chapter on numeracy in ABE, Dave Tout and Mary Jane Schmitt begin by exploring the many terms used to describe the learning of mathematics by adults. They discuss the relationship between the terms "mathematics" and "numeracy" and explain why numeracy - making meaning with numbers and mathematical processes - is the term they chose for their overview. Moving on to examine adult numeracy education in the U.S, the authors find that little attention is paid to the development of math skills among adults in ABE research but that adult numeracy education is prominent in practice. They highlight the development of practitioner groups that share ideas, promote improvement in practice and influence curriculum development at state, local and national levels. Further, they discuss influences on math education (e.g., GED exams and commercially-produced workbooks) and discuss the place of numeracy in policy documents, including the National Reporting System and Equipped for the Future Content Standards.

Given the relative paucity of work pertaining to adult numeracy education, Tout and Schmitt look to K-12 math education. They highlight areas of research, including constructivist models, gender and ethnomathematics ("street math"), and note lessons to be drawn from K-12 research on math education. In addition, they note important policy developments, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards, which continue to influence math education at the K-12 and ABE levels. Beyond the U.S., Tout and Schmitt discuss research initiatives and international efforts to understand and promote effective adult numeracy education. Drawing from examples in Australia, the Netherlands and the U.K, they discuss efforts in the areas of curriculum and instruction, assessment, and teacher support and professional development. In addition, they note successful efforts to embed numeracy in curriculum and assessment frameworks and instructional materials and to involve math educators in their creation. Tout and Schmitt conclude the chapter with the need for future research to focus on issues of cognition and the numeracy demands of society and ways adults can meet those demands. They call for more teacher support and professional development in both pedagogy and content knowledge and greater involvement of practitioners in the development of curriculum standards, assessment tools and instructional materials. In the policy arena, the authors recommend including numeracy practitioners in the development of ABE policies, building an understanding among the public of the importance of numeracy skills, and coordinating efforts to improve and support adult numeracy education at federal, state and local levels. As Tout and Schmitt stress, numeracy needs to be viewed as a core essential skill, as critical for adults as literacy.

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