One Year into the Pandemic, What Secondary Math Teachers Said About Challenges to Standards-Aligned Instruction and Skipping Content

by Rebecca L. Wolfe, Jonathan Schweig, Elizabeth D. Steiner

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Research Questions

  1. What challenges did secondary math teachers perceive to their instruction of standards-aligned math content?
  2. How frequently did secondary math teachers report skipping standards-aligned math content during the 2020–2021 school year?
  3. What reasons did secondary math teachers give for skipping standards-aligned math content?

Although little is known about the quality of math instruction in different school settings during the 2020–2021 school year, evidence from national survey data collected throughout the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic suggests students' opportunity to learn (OTL) — defined in this report as time on instruction and content coverage — differed dramatically depending on whether students were learning in person or through an alternative mode of instruction.

This Data Note presents findings from the 2020 and 2021 Learn Together Surveys to highlight the challenges to standards-aligned instruction that secondary (grades 6 to 12) math teachers might have perceived one year into the pandemic, how frequently they skipped standards-aligned math content, and their reasons for doing so. These findings add to the growing body of evidence showing that students in fully remote and hybrid school settings had fewer opportunities to engage with grade-level math than students learning in person. Specifically, secondary math teachers who provided remote or hybrid instruction reported skipping standards-aligned content more frequently and were less likely to report being able to devote as much time as they would have liked to math instruction compared with their in-person counterparts. Nearly all secondary teachers who reported skipping standards-aligned content said they did so to review or reteach content from previous grade levels. These findings are particularly significant for students who attended schools that were less likely to offer in-person instruction during the 2020–2021 school year.

Key Findings

  • Most secondary math teachers said their students needed something different than standards-aligned math content; one-half reported that standards-aligned math content was not engaging enough to keep students' attention and focus.
  • Most secondary math teachers reported skipping at least some standards-aligned math content during the 2020–2021 school year; teachers who provided remote and hybrid instruction reported skipping content more frequently than teachers working in person.
  • Nearly all secondary math teachers who reported skipping standards-aligned math content said it was because they needed to reteach or review math concepts from previous grade levels.


  • State-, district-, and school-level leaders and policymakers should collect OTL metrics (e.g., access to content, instructional hours, and quality of instruction) to monitor students' learning experiences in math across different contexts and to inform COVID-19 recovery-related funding decisions.
  • State- and district-level content leaders should provide guidance to math teachers about which content standards are essential and opportunities for teachers to explore promising practices to address unfinished learning, including just-in-time approaches.
  • State-, district-, and school-level leaders should identify funding to invest in opportunities for targeted, high-dosage math tutoring that minimize the burden of unfinished learning on teachers.

Research conducted by

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

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