According to an article from Science News titled, Students’ Understanding of the Equal Sign Not Equal, Professor Says, one of the reasons students in the United States are so far behind their foreign peers in mathematics is that they have a lesser understanding of the equal sign. Research conducted at Texas A & M university suggests that roughly 70% of students in middle grades in the U.S. have misconceptions about what the equal sign means. This is a staggeringly large proportion considering that students in some Asian countries have almost no misconceptions about the equal sign.

A large part of the problem is believed to come from students memorizing procedures rather than learning how to interpret the symbols. An example given in the article is 4+3+2=__+2 where students are asked to fill in the blank. Many U.S. middle grade students would solve this by recognizing that 4+3+2=9, and thus filling in the blank with 9. The source of this problem is thought to be the textbooks that students use. In comparing textbooks from China with those from the U.S., researchers noticed that the Chinese texts offered examples explaining things such as the equal sign, while those in the U.S. did not.