Closing the Math Achievement Gap

Oct 20, 2023
Math achievement gap

The Spring 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card) showed the greatest drop in Grades 4 and 8 math test scores since 1990. Students in most states and across almost all demographic groups experienced these troubling setbacks, likely due to the pandemic’s impact. Compare that to the three decades prior, when student math test scores rose steadily.

This is concerning, as math proficiency is critical to students’ logical and analytical thinking, as well as their future success. In fact, many studies, such as “What do Changes in State Test Scores Imply for Later Life Outcomes” (Center for Education Policy Research, Harvard University, 2022), highlight that students who are considered successful in math generally have more college and career options, increased prospects for future income and improved outcomes later in life.

Based on these findings, it’s more important than ever to focus on closing the mathematics achievement gap and provide students with targeted, academic recovery. The latest recommendations from ExcelinEd suggest a comprehensive K-8 mathematics strategy that includes daily math instruction with high quality content and instructional materials, specifically focused on foundations of Algebra.

Fundamental Principles for Student Success in Algebra

To continue closing the achievement gap in math and focus on learning recovery, schools would be wise to ensure their mathematical practices include the following fundamental principles:

  • High quality instructional materials
  • Teacher training and support
  • Frequent progress monitoring
  • Daily instruction and targeted interventions
  • Caregiver support

Let’s take a closer look at each of these principles.

High Quality Instructional Materials

Adopting high quality instructional materials is the first step toward academic recovery and student success in a classroom setting. According to ExcelinEd’s policy toolkit, math instruction must include the study of traditional arithmetic to begin rebuilding students’ test scores. Using a program like Exact Path, Edmentum’s K–12 diagnostic-driven, direct-instruction program, will help students develop deep conceptual understanding, computational fluency, and systematic problem-solving skills. Exact Path weaves algebraic thinking throughout all grade levels within the program and focuses on the most critical topics: foundations of Algebra, conceptual understanding, computational fluency, problem-solving skills, operations, and properties. Investing in and adopting high-quality materials like Exact Path gives teachers access to quality content, practice, and assessment, significantly reducing the need for teachers to search for or create their own materials.

Teacher Training and Support

The second fundamental principle ExcelinEd highlights is the need for teacher training. Educators need to be outfitted with effective strategies and supports — including how to incorporate research-based instructional practices in their teaching, the best ways to use manipulatives, and strategies and ideas for building their students’ foundational and critical-thinking skills—through professional development and teacher education opportunities.

The relationship between teachers’ mathematical knowledge and students’ achievement confirms the importance of content knowledge among educators. Bridging the mathematical achievement gap starts with providing teachers with the tools they need to succeed in helping their students.

Frequent Progress Monitoring

Progress monitoring is key to staying on top of student success and effectively providing intervention when needed. The ExcelinEd policy suggests administering a diagnostic assessment within 30 days of the start of school, to effectively identify where students are and which ones will need extra support in mathematics. Frequent progress monitoring like you’ll find in Exact Path keeps teachers up-to-date on how students are performing so they can provide timely, individualized instruction as needed.

Daily Instruction and Targeted Interventions

By frequently monitoring students, educators have a better sense of students’ strengths and areas where support is needed – allowing them to plan instruction accordingly to meet each student’s individual needs. In addition to the recommended daily core instruction of 60 minutes per day, ExcelinEd recommends providing additional time before, during, and after school, as well as in summer, for targeted intervention and high-impact, evidence-based tutoring. This encourages continuous progress with on-grade- level content during core instruction time along with acceleration and remediation opportunities.

Caregiver Support

The final piece to the student mathematical success puzzle starts at home with families and caregivers. Most children acquire considerable knowledge of numbers and other aspects of mathematics before they enter kindergarten. As students advance through elementary school, caregiver involvement tends to dwindle. But it remains important for caregivers to continue to find small ways to practice math at home because exposure, practice, and real-world applications improve math skills. Educators can focus on keeping communication lines open with caregivers and can send home programs and strategies to support families outside of the classroom.

While accessibility of math education has received a lot of attention lately, in part because of the pandemic, we still see the stubborn culture of math being an inherent talent butting up against the belief that math is a subject that can be learned, just like anything else. We can begin reversing the achievement gap in math by continuing to implement research-backed practices that make learning mathematics not only possible but straightforward for all students.

Looking for ways to begin implementing a stronger math-positive culture in your classroom? Learn how to flip the math narrative with our blog, Making Math Matter in the Classroom.

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