School & District Management

NRC Urges Multiple Studies For Math Curricula

By Michelle Galley — May 26, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Ms. Higgins said she hoped that “the biggest outcome for this is that there will be more resources and more attention paid.”

Read “On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations,” from the National Research Council.

That conclusion was reached by a team of researchers who for two years studied the body of research that has been done on 19 math curricula, 13 of which were produced with the support of the National Science Foundation, and six of which were published by commercial ventures.

The report outlines what is needed to have “a set of high-quality and valid studies,” said Jere Confrey, the chairwoman of the review committee for the NRC, an arm of the congressionally chartered National Academies of Science.

“We have set a really high bar for what needs to happen,” said Ms. Confrey. The panel did so, she said, because “it is essential” that states and districts choosing curricular materials can have confidence in them.

So far, no single curriculum has met the committee’s goal of using four different methodologies to prove its worth, she said.

Of the evaluations already performed, the report says that “the number of studies in the commercial category was far smaller than the number of studies on the NSF-supported materials.”

Overall, the report supports the NSF-designed curricula, according to Diane Resek, a professor of mathematics at San Francisco State University. “Often, the NSF curricula have been attacked as unproven, but that seems to be discounted” in the new report, said Ms. Resek, whose work focuses on K-12 education.

The timing of the report is especially significant because the No Child Left Behind Act includes a provision requiring that educational materials be proved effective according to “scientifically based research.” But there was no clear definition in the law for what that research should entail, Ms. Confrey said.

As a result, the research team from the NRC set out to define the term “scientifically established effective” for existing math curricula, and concluded that using four specific methodologies fulfills that definition. The researchers did not address other subjects in the curriculum.

The committee recommended that content analyses focusing on such matters as accuracy, topic coverage, and the progression of math lessons be performed on each program.

Legal, Logistical Barriers

In addition, comparative studies that weigh two programs of high quality against each other should be carried out, the report says.

“A comparative study could be meaningless without a content analysis,” Ms. Confrey said, if the study compares two programs that are equally poor in quality.

Case studies showing how the materials are used in classrooms are also essential, according to the report. “It could be a beautiful curriculum, but not if teachers can’t implement it,” said Ms. Confrey, an education professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Finally, studies that look at other evaluations of the curriculum are also required to judge the quality of materials.

Obtaining that much research is not easy, said Ms. Resek of San Francisco State.

For example, she said, when she set out to study students’ math performance after they entered college, she had to rely on the students to report their grades to her because legally she could not have access to them from their K-12 schools or colleges. “Do you trust people self- reporting grades?” she said.

Performing the amount of research called for in the NRC report is logistically difficult, said Traci Higgins, a senior research and development specialist for TERC,a nonprofit research and development organization based in Cambridge, Mass. Ms. Higgins also oversees much of the research conducted on Investigations, an NSF-supported math curriculum for the elementary level. a nonprofit research and development organization based in Cambridge, Mass. Ms. Higgins also oversees much of the research conducted on Investigations, an NSF-supported math curriculum for the elementary level.

“I think it would be wonderful” if all the research were performed, she said. “But there are some difficulties in making that a reality, and one of them is [a lack of] funding and resources to do that kind of work.”

Sending a researcher into schools to see how a curriculum is being implemented is expensive. And timing the visits is tricky because districts phase in new materials over a period of years.

Ms. Higgins said she hoped that “the biggest outcome for this is that there will be more resources and more attention paid.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 26, 2004 edition of Education Week as NRC Urges Multiple Studies For Math Curricula

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Roundtable Webinar: Why We Created a Portrait of a Graduate
Hear from three K-12 leaders for insights into their school’s Portrait of a Graduate and learn how to create your own.
Content provided by Otus
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and K-12 education jubs at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Letter to the Editor Student Protestors Are Not Fueled by Hatred or Prejudice
A reader pushes back on the coverage of student protestors in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
School & District Management Principals Have a Lead Role in the ‘Science of Reading.’ Are They Ready?
The push to shifting schools to the science of reading has often neglected the vital role of the principal.
9 min read
School & District Management Quiz What Do You Know About the Most Influential People in School Districts? Take Our Quiz
Answer 7 questions about the superintendent profession.
1 min read
Image of icons for gender, pay, demographics.
Canva
School & District Management Opinion I Invited My Students to Be the Principal for a Day. Here’s What I Learned
When I felt myself slipping into a springtime slump, this simple activity reminded me of my “why” as an educator.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
4 min read
052024 OPINION Khoshaba PRINCIPAL end the year with positivity
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva