Data reveals a need to rethink how districts implement instructional materials and support teachers to provide crucial mathematics learning.
When EdReports first launched reviews of comprehensive K–8 mathematics instructional materials in 2015, only one series met expectations for alignment to college and career-ready standards.
Over the past eight years, we’ve seen significant improvements in materials after publishing educator-led reviews for more than 95% of the K–12 math comprehensive curriculum market. 44% of our mathematics reviews meet expectations, indicating that educators have more high-quality programs to select from than ever before.
Despite the increased availability of aligned materials, our 2021 Mathematics Data Snapshot highlighted that the majority of students across the country still have limited access to the content and practices critical to building mathematics skills and engaging in deep mathematics learning. One of the leading challenges in getting more students access to quality materials is a widespread lack of consistent curriculum-aligned professional learning.
Additionally, RAND survey data reveals just how often teachers are engaging in specific mathematics activities and practices in the classroom as well as what percentage of students are being engaged in these practices. As students progress from grades K–5 to 6–8 and on to high school, they spend less and less time engaged in activities that align with the Standards for Mathematical Practice when they should be devoting as much or more time to them.
Research shows that applying mathematics to the real world, making sense of problems that do not lend themselves to clear procedures, and persevering in solving those problems are all crucial to college and career-readiness. Less engagement in the Math Practices can be a signal that students may not have the preparation and skills they need for future success.
Across grade levels, not enough students are getting the opportunity to engage in these critical practices and activities. For example, at the elementary level, 44% percent of teachers are engaging more than half of their students in making sense of problems that do not include clear procedures for solving them. Forty-two percent of teachers have students persevere in solving those problems at least once a week. Those numbers drop precipitously as students progress through middle school then to high school where the percentages decrease by more than half in some instances. (See full table of mathematics learning activities)
One clear solution to this problem is ensuring all students have access to high-quality instructional materials that support students to engage in the Math Practices. Two primary opportunities posed by quality materials include: 1) Providing tasks that elicit the Practices and; 2) Supplying guidance and resources for teachers.
A 2018 RAND study found that when teachers had access to high-quality, aligned instructional materials, students were more likely to engage in mathematical practices at a significantly higher rate than teachers who did not have access to an aligned curriculum. With only 40% of teachers (21% in high school) reporting use of aligned materials at least once a week, educators may not have the resources they need to support engagement in the Math Practices.
Teachers Need Curriculum-Aligned Professional Development to Leverage the Math Practices
Investing in high-quality instructional materials is the first step toward improving how students experience math, but quality curriculum alone is not enough. Students also need access to the kind of learning that inspires a love of mathematics and builds the know-how they need for the future.
Data shows that even if educators are using aligned materials, it is unlikely that they have had the training necessary to implement them well. Access to professional learning is low in general–nearly a quarter of teachers receive no curriculum-aligned professional development, and only 40% of teachers receive between one and five hours. The hours of curriculum-aligned professional development is especially low in high school where student engagement in the Math Practices is the most important and least likely to happen.
From our work in the field, we also know that few professional learning opportunities are dedicated to what the Standards for Mathematical Practice are, what they mean, why they are important, and the ways in which instructional materials support participation in the practices–all of which is likely contributing to lower rates of student engagement. The data around student engagement not only illuminates the need for quality resources but highlights another area where professional learning is lacking.
In order to ensure students have access to the kind of mathematics learning that can make a real difference in their lives and their future, districts should:
Access to professional learning is vital to ensuring that materials are used well in classrooms, and can help close the gap between what’s selected and what’s in use. Ongoing support and learning opportunities for teachers could lead to important gains for students, and ensure crucial mathematics learning activities are regularly happening.