Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Investing in Math Learning and Achievement for All Learners

International and national assessment data show that many U.S. students struggle with mathematics, and there continues to be a gap between students with and without disabilities. The recent 2022 NAEP mathematics results continue to showcase these disparities, which have been further exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for lower-performing students and students of color.

In honor of Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, we want to highlight the research IES is supporting to improve mathematics achievement and access to educational opportunities for all learners, especially learners who have been historically underserved and underrepresented in STEM education.

IES is supporting research through its discretionary grant competitions to measure, explore, develop, and evaluate effective mathematics programs, practices, and policies for all students, including those with or at risk for disabilities. Here are a few highlights of some new research supported by IES:

  • Interleaved Mathematics Practice – Bryan Matlen (WestEd) and colleagues are conducting a systematic replication of a highly promising mathematics learning intervention, interleaved practice, in 7th grade classrooms. With the interleaved practice intervention, some of the assigned math practice problems are rearranged so that problems of different kinds are mixed together, which improves learning, and problems of the same kind are distributed across multiple assignments, which improves retention. Numerous studies in the laboratory and classroom have demonstrated that merely rearranging practice problems so that the students receive a higher dose of interleaved practice can dramatically boost scores on measures of learning. This replication study will determine whether this promising intervention can improve math learning and achievement and whether the intervention can scale to a widely-used online intervention that currently reaches tens of thousands of students in diverse settings.
  • Educational Technology Approaches to K-12 Mathematics – Jennifer Morrison (Johns Hopkins University) and colleagues are conducting a meta-analysis of rigorous evaluations of approaches that use technology to improve student mathematics achievement in grades K to 12. Using meta-analytic techniques, the team will be identifying conditions under which various types of technology applications are most effective in teaching mathematics. The results will provide researchers and education leaders with up-to-date information on effective uses of technology, including computer assisted instruction, cooperative learning, intelligent tutoring systems, games, simulations, virtual reality, inquiry/discovery, project-based learning, and media-infused instruction.
  • Specialized Intervention to Reach All Learners - Sarah Powell (University of Texas at Austin) and colleagues are conducting an initial efficacy evaluation of Math SPIRAL, an educator-provided mathematics intervention for students identified as needing intervention services through state achievement testing in grades four and five. Educators are provided with an evidence-based word problem intervention (Pirate Math Equation Quest), associated professional development, and coaching to support implementation and address the needs of their learners who are struggling in math. The research team will evaluate the impact of Math SPIRAL on mathematics outcomes for upper elementary students identified as being with or at risk for a disability. The results will provide information on the efficacy of Math SPIRAL as a tool to accelerate the learning of students in need of math intervention.
  • Math and Reading Acquisition Co-Adaptive System – Jess Gropen (Center for Applied Special Technology), Steve Ritter (Carnegie Learning), and their research team are iteratively developing and studying a set of individualized reading supports for students embedded within an adaptive mathematics learning system (MATHia) and an associated teacher application (LiveLab). Heuristics will determine when reading supports or scaffolds should be provided or recommended to students. In addition, adaptive supports for teachers will alert them when students are likely exhibiting reading challenges and provide recommendations for intervention. The findings will determine whether these reading supports that can be embedded into a variety of digital and/or adaptive math tools to decrease reading challenges and increase students' ability to engage effectively with math. The findings and generated technical resources (such as design assets and heuristics) will be Creative Commons licensed and made available through GitHub for use by other developers.

In August 2022, IES also launched the Learning Acceleration Challenge (LAC) Math Prize to identify and award school-based, digital interventions that significantly improve math outcomes for upper elementary school students with or at risk for a disability that affects math performance. Interventions for the Math Prize needed to specifically focus on fractions and could also include prerequisite skills such as whole numbers and operations. Two interventions are currently competing for the math prize and the winner will be announced Fall 2023.

In addition, IES has developed Practice Guides with evidence-based recommendations for educators to address challenges in their classrooms and schools. A list of the mathematics focused Practice Guides can be found here.

This blog was written by Christina Chhin (, NCER; Sarah Brasiel (, NCSER; and Britta Bresina (, NCSER.

Comments are closed