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Research Questions

  1. What instructional materials do teachers report using in mathematics classrooms?
  2. What do teachers know about the content and approaches aligned with their state standards for mathematics?
  3. To what extent do teachers report engaging students in standards-aligned mathematical practices?

This report presents findings from a 2016 American Teacher Panel survey, which gathered information about teachers' instructional materials for mathematics, their understanding of their mathematics standards, and their standards-aligned practices. The authors also consider how teachers' instructional materials might support their understanding of their standards and practice. This report follows up on findings from a 2015 survey and is intended to support decisionmaking regarding policies and related to state standards and teachers' instructional practice.

The authors found that most of the materials that teachers reported using regularly for their instruction during the 2015–2016 school year were not highly aligned with Common Core State Standards. In addition, they were not always able to identify approaches and content aligned with their state standards for mathematics. Over one-third of teachers reported that their students engaged in various standards-aligned practices to a great extent. The authors found positive and significant relationships between teachers' use of standards-aligned instructional materials and their standards-aligned practices, as well as some limited relationships between teachers' standards-aligned materials and their understanding of their standards. The report concludes by suggesting that teachers need a better understanding of their state standards if they are to engage their students in practices aligned with those standards. Furthermore, evidence from this report indicates that instructional materials closely aligned with state standards may support teachers' understanding of their standards and their standards-aligned practices.

Key Findings

Most of the materials that teachers reported using regularly for their instruction during the 2015–2016 school year were not highly aligned with the Common Core State Standards

  • About 16 percent of elementary mathematics teachers and 5 percent of secondary mathematics teachers reported regularly using materials with a high degree of alignment.
  • Teachers in states that have not formally adopted the Common Core were not using highly aligned materials, by the authors' definition.

A majority of teachers were able to identify Common Core–aligned topics at their grade level

  • At the same time, many teachers also indicated that many topics not aligned with the Common Core should be addressed at their grade level.
  • Less than one-third of teachers were able to order two sets of standards from the lowest to the highest grade level, although most teachers could order at least one set of standards correctly.

Over one-third of teachers reported that their students engaged in various standards-aligned practices to a great extent

  • On the other hand, roughly 20 percent of teachers reported asking students to look for and make use of structure or construct viable arguments, two Standards for Mathematical Practice emphasized by the Common Core.
  • Teachers using at least one aligned main material more frequently reported their students engaging to a great extent in standards-aligned practices than teachers not using at least one aligned main material.
  • Teachers with more vulnerable students were less likely to report engaging their students in standards-aligned practices than teachers serving less vulnerable students.

Recommendations

  • By providing teachers with materials that are closely aligned with state standards, states and districts may encourage more standards-aligned practices.
  • Provision of aligned curricula is only the first step in supporting teachers' high-quality, standards-aligned instruction. States and districts should clarify, via professional development and other means, the topics and sequencing of those topics teachers should be teaching at their grade level, as well as mathematics approaches and concepts closely aligned with state standards.

The research described in this report was funded the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and conducted by RAND Education.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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