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Evaluation of Early Elementary Math Curricula

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


September 2005 – September 2013



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
SRI International


Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (as reauthorized in 2001 by the No Child Left Behind Act) is intended to help ensure that all children have the opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach proficiency on challenging state standards and assessments. As the largest federal program supporting elementary and secondary education (funded at $13.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2008), these resources are targeted primarily to high-poverty districts and schools.

There has been very little reliable information available to educators and policy makers about which curricula are most likely to improve math performance. This evaluation focused on math curricula for early elementary grades, since disadvantaged children are behind their more advantaged peers in basic math competencies even before entering elementary school.

  • What is the relative effectiveness of different math curricula on student achievement in early elementary schools?
  • Under what conditions is each math curriculum most effective?
  • What is the relationship between teacher knowledge of math content and pedagogy and the effectiveness of the math curricula?

The evaluation questions were addressed through an experimental design in which schools were randomly assigned to selected math curricula; there was no control group. Math curricula were selected for the evaluation through a competitive process. The math curricula evaluated are widely-used and representative of different instructional approaches, and are appropriate for funding under Title I. The curricula evaluated were Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (Pearson Scott Foresman), Math Expressions (Houghton Mifflin), Saxon Math (Harcourt Achieve), and Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics (Pearson Scott Foresman). Implementation of the math curricula and their impact on first-grade student achievement was measured in 4 districts and 39 schools during the 2006–07 school year. Programs were implemented in an additional 71 schools and also in second grade during the 2007–08 school year.

On the relative effectiveness of four math curricula:

  • Within districts, one of the four curricula was randomly assigned to each school that participated in the study. After one year (by the end of 1st grade), students taught with Math Expressions and Saxon made greater gains in achievement than students taught with Investigations and SFAW.
  • After two years (by the end of 2nd grade), Investigations students continued to lag behind Math Expressions and Saxon students, while SFAW/enVision students caught up to Math Expressions and Saxon students. Therefore, Math Expressions, Saxon, and SFAW/enVision improved 1st-through-2nd-grade math achievement by similar amounts, and all three outperformed Investigations.

On the correlation between instructional practices and math achievement:

  • Results that are consistent with previous research include increased student achievement associated with teachers dedicating more time to whole-class instruction, suggesting specific practices in response to students' work (first grade only), using more representations of mathematical ideas, asking the class if it agrees with a student's answer, directing students to help one another understand mathematics, and differentiating curriculum for students above grade level (second grade only).
  • Results that are less consistent with earlier research were found for second-grade classrooms, and include lower achievement associated with teachers' higher frequency of eliciting multiple strategies and solutions, as well as a higher frequency of prompting a student to lead the class in a routine, and with students more frequently asking each other questions.

An evaluation brief on study impacts, titled After Two Years, Three Elementary Math Curricula Outperform a Fourth, was released in September 2013.

An evaluation brief on study correlations, titled Instructional Practices and Student Math Achievement: Correlations from a Study of Math Curricula, was released in September 2013

Other publications from this study are listed below.

Reports on the Implementation and Impact of Math Curricula

A restricted-use file containing de-identified data is available for the purposes of replicating study findings and secondary analysis.