Mathematical Literacy

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Mathematical literacy entails the use of mathematical competencies at several levels, ranging from performance of standard mathematical operations to mathematical thinking and insight. It also requires the knowledge and application of a range of mathematical content.

PISA assesses mathematical literacy in three dimensions:

  • First, the content of mathematics, as defined mainly in terms of broad mathematical concepts underlying mathematical thinking (such as chance, change and growth, space and shape, reasoning, uncertainty and dependency relationships), and only secondarily in relation to "curricular strands" (such as numbers, algebra and geometry). The PISA 2000 assessment, in which mathematics is a minor domain, focuses on two concepts: change and growth, and space and shape. These two areas allow a wide representation of aspects of the curriculum without giving undue weight to number skills.
  • Second, the process of mathematics as defined by general mathematical competencies. These include the use of mathematical language, modelling and problem-solving skills. The idea is not, however, to separate out such skills in different test items, since it is assumed that a range of competencies will be needed to perform any given mathematical task. Rather, questions are organized in terms of three "competency classes" defining the type of thinking skill needed.
    • The first class of mathematical competency consists of simple computations or definitions of the type most familiar in conventional mathematics assessments.
    • The second class requires connections to be made to solve straightforward problems.
    • The third competency class consists of mathematical thinking, generalization and insight, and requires students to engage in analysis, to identify the mathematical elements in a situation and to pose their own problems.
  • Third, the situations in which mathematics is used, ranging from private contexts to those relating to wider scientific and public issues.


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