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State-level actions to support math achievement — April 2021


What does research say about state-level actions tosupport K–12 student achievement in mathematics?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on state-level actions to support K-12 student achievement in mathematics. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL). (2019). Implementation of Massachusetts curriculum framework in English language arts and math: Insights, innovations, and challenges in 6 districts. Author. Full text available from

From the abstract: “The Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL), funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, examines how college- and career-readiness (CCR) standards are implemented, if they improve student learning, and what instructional tools measure and support their implementation. This brief presents findings from C-SAIL’s Implementation Study, which uses interview and survey data to explore how district administrators, principals, and teachers are understanding, experiencing, and implementing Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in English language arts (ELA) and math. C-SAIL examines how and what kinds of supports are provided to teachers of all students, including students with disabilities (SWDs) and English learners (ELs) who take the general state assessment. Since their research began in 2015, C-SAIL researchers have interviewed 10 state officials, and 12 district officials in six Massachusetts districts. They also conducted 12 interviews and focus groups with teachers, principals, and instructional coaches in one of these districts. They selected the six case study districts by identifying two urban, two suburban, and two rural districts with relatively high percentages of SWDs and ELs. They also examined other district characteristics—percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, student achievement or growth rates, and geographic location within the state—to ensure that their districts represented a range of contextual factors. In this brief, they highlight key insights from the six case study districts, emphasizing Massachusetts innovative practices and notable challenges.”

Domina, T, McEachin, A., Penner, A., & Penner, E. (2015). Aiming high and falling short: California's eighth-grade algebra-for-ll Effort. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37, 275-295. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

The United States is in the midst of an effort to intensify middle school mathematics curricula by enrolling more 8th graders in Algebra. California is at the forefront of this effort, and in 2008, the state moved to make Algebra the accountability benchmark test for 8th-grade mathematics. This article takes advantage of this unevenly implemented policy to understand the effects of curricular intensification in middle school mathematics. Using district-level panel data from all California K-12 public school districts, we estimate the effects of increasing 8th-grade Algebra enrollment rates on a 10th-grade mathematics achievement measure. We find that enrolling more students in advanced courses has negative average effects on students' achievement, driven by negative effects in large districts.

Driscoll, D. P. (2017). Commitment and common sense: Leading education reform in Massachusetts. Harvard Education Press. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

Book description: “This book tells the inside story of how Massachusetts became a national model for education. Twelve years after the passage of the state’s comprehensive education reform law in 1993, Bay State student scores rose to the top of ‘the nation's report card’ (the National Assessment of Educational Progress) in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math—and have stayed there ever since. How were state leaders able to raise student achievement to such levels and maintain them? Are there leadership lessons for others now that the spotlight on improvements in education has returned to the states under the Every Student Succeeds Act? David P. Driscoll, the man put in charge of implementing the Massachusetts Education Reform Act just days after it was signed, provides answers to both questions in this provocative insider account of the key events leading up to, through, and following this pivotal period. This book is full of lively anecdotes and wisdom born from experience in the trenches of education politics at local, state, and national levels. Driscoll offers unique insights for current and future education leaders interested in learning more about the keys to Massachusetts’s success and understanding of the power of state policy to effect change.”

REL West note: This is a book. We include it here because of its relevance to the request.

Phillips, K. J. R., Desimone, L., & Smith, T. M. (2011). Teacher participation in content-focused professional development and the role of state policy. Teachers College Record, 113(11), 2586–2630. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Recent research has demonstrated the potential for teacher professional development to enhance teacher learning, improve instruction, and increase student achievement. Nevertheless, research examining the relationship between state and local policies and teachers’ participation in professional development is sparse. This connection between policy environments and teacher-based outcomes becomes increasingly important as educational reforms place new demands on teachers. Since professional development is a key mechanism to improving teachers’ instruction and students’ achievement, we address the extent to which state and school policy environments are associated with teachers’ participation in content-focused professional development. We consider such policy environments within the context of both mathematics, a high-stakes subject area, and science, currently a low-stakes subject area. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In describing state policy environments along several dimensions, we seek to discover which types of policies are more or less influential in moving teachers into the types of professional development that research has shown to be most effective for improved teaching and learning. Research Design: Using a national sample of high school mathematics and science teachers from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), we conduct a secondary analysis using a three-level hierarchical linear model (HLM) to predict teachers’ level of participation in different types of professional development. We conduct separate analyses for mathematics (a high-stakes subject area) and for science (currently a low-stakes subject area). Findings/Results: We find that the policy context at both the school- and state-level is more predictive of teacher participation in effective professional development in a high-stakes subject (mathematics) than a low-stakes subject (science). We also find that the alignment between state standards and assessments is a key attribute of state-level policies that tend to promote teacher participation in content-focused professional development in high-stakes subject areas. Even though state-level policies are important in promoting participation in effective professional development, we find that policy environments are strongest when they are closest to the teacher. Conclusions/Recommendations: We conclude that both state- and school-level policy environments are associated with teachers taking high-quality professional development, but these findings are most pronounced in high-stakes subject areas. We also find that policies promoting consistency in the form of alignment between standards and assessments are perhaps the most important type of policies that states can adopt to encourage teachers to participate in effective professional development.”

Porter, A. C. (1993). Reform up close: An analysis of high school mathematics and science classrooms. Final report. Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This report presents a study of high school mathematics and science in six states, 12 districts, and 18 schools. The study is an effort to document state, district, and school policy and practices and the enacted curriculum as provided by teachers and experienced by students. The data consist of daily records of instructional practices for 62 teachers, 116 observations of 75 teachers, 81 teacher interviews, 312 teacher questionnaires, 76 school administrator interviews, 44 district administrator interviews, and 18 interviews of education agency administrators. Among the conclusions are that the study took place in a time of great transition, many state and district policies are weak but they can have strong effects, and textbooks and tests are important instructional resources that can and often do influence the nature of high school mathematics and science instruction.”

REL West note: Although this article was published in 1993, we include it here because of its relevance to the request.

Russell, J., Stein, M. K., Correnti, R., Bill, V., Booker, L., & Schwartz, N. (2017). Tennessee scales up improved math instruction through coaching. State Education Standard, 17(2), 23–27. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “If students are to meet higher standards, all educators in the system have to learn how to engage students in reasoning about complex ideas. What levers can state boards of education and state education agencies pull to support the professional learning that makes this possible? A research-practice partnership in Tennessee may shed light on this question. This group’s task was to support mathematics teachers across the state through instructional coaching. This work contributes to a body of research showing that well-designed coaching programs contribute to teacher learning and improved instruction.”

Sawyer, R., Holland, D., & Detgen, A. (2008). State policies and procedures and selected local implementation practices in response to intervention in the six southeast region states (REL 2008–No. 063). Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Response to Intervention has garnered recent interest from policymakers, researchers, and educators. Studies of its effectiveness have found it promising, and state education agencies are increasingly interested in the approach. This report supplies basic information about state planning and implementation of the approach in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The report focuses chiefly on states, but also illustrates implementation of Response to Intervention with examples from three local education agencies. The report identifies four main reasons why Southeast Region states adopted Response to Intervention: (1) To address disproportionality (over-identification or under-identification of students from minority subgroups for special education); (2) To promote overall student achievement; (3) To better integrate general and special education; and (4) To inform, or possibly determine, special education eligibility for students with learning disabilities. All six Southeast Region states were adopting Response to Intervention at the state level: from planning in Alabama and South Carolina, to pilot initiatives in Florida and North Carolina, to statewide rollouts in Georgia and Mississippi. Leadership for such efforts has been split, residing sometimes in special education departments and sometimes in general education departments. Southeast Region states have different strategies for scaling up Response to Intervention. Some are beginning with an exclusive focus on the elementary level; others are rolling out the approach to all grade levels. All six states have Response to Intervention initiatives that focus on reading, yet it is almost as common for the state initiatives to focus on mathematics and behavior. States encounter both facilitating factors and challenges as they plan and implement Response to Intervention. Collaboration among state education departments and external partners is an important consideration for state planning. Challenges arise for planners working across special and general education and include blending funding, developing staff training, and staging rollouts so as not to overwhelm schools with new and complex practices. More work is needed to share and empirically compare states’ experiences with such concerns as funding options, state planning practices, fidelity in implementation, identification of effective mathematics and behavior interventions, and secondary school implementation.”

Stewart, J., Rhoads, C., Serdiouk, M., Van Dine, D., Cherasaro, T., & Klute, M. (2019). Associations between the qualifications of middle school Algebra I teachers and student math achievement (REL 2020–005). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Historically, students took Algebra I in high school, but there has been a recent trend toward taking it in middle school (Domina, 2014). In the past two decades the proportion of middle school students taking Algebra I or more-advanced math courses has doubled (Domina, 2014). Success in Algebra I is important because it is a gateway course for advanced math (Star et al., 2015). Students who take and pass Algebra I are more likely to take and pass more-advanced math courses in high school (Snipes & Finkelstein, 2015). This trend has created a need for middle school teachers with more-advanced knowledge of math content, because prior research has suggested that teachers’ knowledge of math content plays an important role in student achievement (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). The current study examines associations between the qualifications of middle school Algebra I teachers and their students’ math achievement. Specifically, the study focuses on teacher certifications to teach math, education background, and performance on certification exams, particularly those associated with math content knowledge. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education staff might use the findings from this study when determining certification rules for middle school Algebra I teachers. The findings might also be useful to education leaders in other states as they consider which teacher qualifications are important for student achievement in Algebra I. Key findings include: (1) Teacher performance on math certification exams and years of experience teaching math were the qualifications most strongly associated with middle school students’ Algebra I achievement; and (2) Teacher performance on math certification exams and years of experience teaching math were also strongly associated with Algebra I achievement for students in under-represented subgroups (Black students and Hispanic students) and disadvantaged subgroups (students receiving special education services and students eligible for the national school lunch program).”

Thomasian, J. (2011). Building a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education agenda: An update of state actions. NGA Center for Best Practices. Full text available from

From the abstract:STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—is critical to and supportive of many education reforms being undertaken today, from adoption of common internationally benchmarked standards to better teacher preparation to enhanced coordination across the entire K–20 education system. In fact, STEM is not a separate reform movement at all; rather, it is an emphasis. It stresses a multidisciplinary approach for better preparing all students in STEM subjects and growing the number of postsecondary graduates who are prepared for STEM occupations. The National Governors Association (NGA) first addressed STEM in its 2007 report, ‘Building a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Agenda.’ That report provided an overview of the STEM-related challenges, opportunities, and actions from the state perspective. This report updates those recommendations in light of recent state progress to improve education standards and other efforts to advance STEM education. In addition, this report incorporates recent data from studies that make the economic case for pursuing a STEM agenda even more compelling than before. The report’s six brief chapters cover several issues. Chapter 2 defines the goals of the STEM agenda, focusing on specific measures. Chapter 3 examines why STEM is important in terms of jobs, prosperity, and future economic success. Chapter 4 reviews where the current system is preventing the graduation of more high school and college students with STEM skills. Chapter 5 examines what is being done and can be done to counter these trends. Chapter 6 concludes with a look at the work ahead. Governors, state education policy staff, and state education leaders can use this guide to further the implementation of STEM agendas. Fortunately, as current state actions demonstrate, emphasizing STEM does not shift the direction of education reforms already underway. The majority of actions called for in this report complement changes initiated in both the K–12 and postsecondary systems over the past several years. A STEM focus merely provides coherence to many of these reforms, uniting them under a common set of goals. Finally, this report also is designed to inform the public. Public commitment and public will are necessary to mobilize the efforts needed for change and to set higher expectations for the nation’s youth.”

Additional Organization to Consult

Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy –

From the website: “Our mission is to improve public education through well-informed decision-making based on deep knowledge and evidence of effective policymaking and practice. As Massachusetts’ preeminent voice in public education reform, we create open spaces for educators and policymakers to consider evidence, discuss cutting-edge issues, and develop new approaches to advance student learning and achievement. Through our staunch commitment to independent, non-partisan research and constructive conversations, we work to promote an education system that provides every child with the opportunity to be successful in school and in life.”

REL West note: Rennie Center has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy. (2017). Condition of education in the commonwealth: 2017 data report. Author. Full text available from


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(Math OR Mathematics) AND (“instructional framework” OR “math framework” OR “instructional improvement”) AND (“state action” OR “state policy” OR “state government” OR “educational policy”) AND (“student achievement” OR “student outcome”) AND (research OR “best practices”) AND “K-12”]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.