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A Joint Position Statement of the Mathematical Association of America and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics on Teaching Calculus

Over several decades, there has been much discussion about what constitutes an appropriate and rigorous mathematics curriculum at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. These discussions have been driven by a variety of factors, including the rapid development of technology, the expansion of the role of quantitative tools in the modern workplace, and growing recognition of the role of mathematics courses as a barrier to entry into STEM disciplines. Moreover, high DFW rates in traditional mathematics courses continue to limit degree completion for all students, with disparate impacts on traditionally underrepresented populations.

Over this same period, there has been a growing perception among students, parents, and college admission officers that AP Calculus represents a key indicator for college readiness and success, even though roughly half of U.S. high schools offer AP Calculus, with less than 40% of high schools serving large populations of Black and Hispanic students doing so. (ref: U.S. Dept of Ed Office of Civil Rights; see also

While there has been some improvement in expanding access to calculus in U.S. high schools, it remains the case that far fewer than half of all high school students will enroll in such a course prior to graduation. These basic facts underscore the rationale for this joint statement from MAA and NCTM.

Question: How should secondary schools and colleges envision calculus courses as part of their efforts to meet the needs of current and future populations of mathematics students?

MAA/NCTM Position

A calculus course can provide students with important foundations for a variety of further studies, particularly in mathematically intensive fields. To ensure that calculus fulfills its multiple purposes, high schools and colleges should design curriculum and instruction in ways known to promote student success. A high school calculus course should not be the singular end goal of the PK–12 mathematics curriculum at the expense of providing a broad spectrum of mathematical preparation. All calculus courses should focus on proficiencies that enable students to succeed in the wider world of mathematical studies.

Close attention to how calculus instruction is enacted is essential to educational equity and students’ persistence in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors. Faculty in our colleges and secondary schools should work together to thoughtfully and purposefully plan for student learning in calculus courses. Thus, ;

  1. Courses in calculus at any level should incorporate the instructional and curricular practices detailed in the most recent recommendations from NCTM and MAA.
  2. PK–12 and postsecondary institutions must address inequities in the availability of highquality prerequisite instruction and coursework.
  3. High schools and colleges must provide students with support for developing the proficiencies needed for the study of calculus as part of the broader preparation needed for success outside and beyond calculus.
  4. Calculus courses in college should meet the needs of students who have studied calculus in high school as well as those who have not, and should recognize the different ways in which students will use calculus in their intended majors and careers.

MAA and NCTM recommit to taking actions consistent with and supportive of these positions. Our organizations will do the following:

• Acknowledge and work to address the inequities that arise from different levels of student access to high-quality calculus courses in high school and college.

• Support efforts to use the results of the MAA’s study of Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus to improve student learning outcomes and increase levels of student retention in calculus-related pathways.

• Bring high school and college faculty together to coordinate and implement instructional and curricular practices that support students in their transition from high school to college mathematics.

• Involve high school and college faculty in efforts to create new math pathways and curricula that provide for a variety of opportunities.

• Cooperate with other organizations to clarify and broaden what the final years of high school and the first years of college mathematics can and should entail. •Contribute to continued study of the impacts of placement procedures at the high school and college levels.

See the attached PDF version for supporting resources.