By Tim Truitt
Managing Director, STEM


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.

Less engagement in the Math Practices can be a signal that students may not have the preparation and skills they need for future success.

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.

Quality curriculum alone is not enough. Students also need access to the kinds 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:

  1. Invest in high-quality instructional materials.  Almost all teachers indicate that materials aligned to college and career-ready standards and that challenge and engage each and every student are important to them. These materials–including programs that incorporate the Math Practices and their meaningful  connection to the standards–are increasingly available, yet use of these materials is still not happening at a high rate. 

    EdReports reviews act as  one critical resource districts can use to select high-quality materials that speak to the needs of local communities and support mathematics learning at a deep level. The Math Practices are central to the EdReports mathematics review tools. They focus on examining how materials support the intentional development of the Practices as integral to college and career-ready standards. Each Practice is addressed in our review criteria, and educator reviewers evaluate every page of a program and document with evidence how materials support students and teachers to engage in the Practices.

  2. Involve (and train) teachers in the selection and implementation of high-quality instructional materials.  Teachers need to have a real voice in the materials that are selected, which includes preparing and training them to effectively contribute to the process. States and districts must provide learning opportunities for teachers to understand what high-quality materials look like, their connection to the standards and math practices, and why quality materials matter. When teachers are offered meaningful opportunities to help select materials, it increases the likelihood that they will actually use the materials that are chosen.

  3. Invest in ongoing curriculum-aligned professional learning. To address the disconnect between the availability of high-quality materials and teachers’ ability to leverage them, districts and schools must commit to a vision for instruction and the professional development to support that vision. This includes comprehensive learning around both the standards (which includes the Practices) and how to implement materials in ways that all students can truly benefit.

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.