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Research Questions

  1. What differences exist in advanced math course offerings across high school contexts?
  2. What differences exist in the opportunities provided to students to prepare for advanced math courses before high school?
  3. How frequently did K–12 math teachers report skipping standards-aligned math content during the 2021–2022 school year?
  4. What challenges did K–12 math teachers encounter to providing high-quality math content during the 2021–2022 school year?

How can the United States increase diversity in STEM fields and address math proficiency gaps? Equitable opportunities for students to prepare for and take advanced math are critical to the equation. Preparation for advanced math accumulates over time. Systematic differences in students' access to advanced courses and exposure to grade-level content throughout their academic careers could signal major inequities in how schools are preparing students for post-secondary success.

This report uses spring 2022 data from nationally representative surveys of principals and math teachers in kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12) to explore students' opportunities to prepare for and take advanced math. The authors found that small high schools, high schools in rural areas, and high schools that predominantly serve students from historically marginalized communities tend to offer fewer advanced math courses (e.g., precalculus, Advanced Placement math courses) and that uneven access to advanced math begins in middle school. K–12 teachers who work in schools that predominately serve students living in poverty are more likely to report skipping standards-aligned content and replacing the skipped content with concepts from previous grade levels. Also, more than half of K–12 math teachers said they need additional support for delivering high-quality math instruction, especially teachers who work in schools that serve predominantly high-poverty students. In the wake of the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students living in poverty and students of color, these results highlight a critical need for resources to support teachers and to increase student access to advanced courses.

Key Findings

  • Small high schools, high schools in rural areas, and high schools that mostly serve students from historically marginalized communities offer fewer opportunities for students to take advanced math.
  • Inequities in access to advanced math courses starts before high school with uneven access to algebra I.
  • Math teachers in high-poverty schools reported skipping standards-aligned content more frequently and were more likely to replace what they skipped with content from prior grade levels compared with teachers in low-poverty schools.
  • A large proportion of math teachers were not able to devote as much time as they would have liked to math instruction in the 2021–2022 school year. Nearly half said they needed more support for delivering high-quality math instruction.


  • School districts should invest federal and state funding into universal high-dosage tutoring programs for economically disadvantaged middle schoolers. These programs should provide high-quality support to eighth-graders enrolled in algebra I and promote algebra I readiness among students not yet enrolled in algebra I.
  • State, district, and school leaders should provide teachers with standards-aligned curriculum materials and high-quality training to support teachers' understanding of which content is essential for future learning.
  • District leaders should work with regional postsecondary institutions to identify creative solutions to making high-quality advanced courses accessible for all high school students, especially those that attend schools in small, geographically isolated, or underresourced communities.
  • School districts, school leaders, and teachers should create transparent messaging around the importance of course-taking—the earlier, the better.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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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