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How REL Central Is Supporting Math Achievement in the Central Region

Central | January 19, 2023

Math equations on a blackboard

When the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as The Nation's Report Card) results were released in October 2022, educators, policymakers, and journalists immediately began to dig into the findings—and just as immediately had major concerns. As the first NAEP assessment since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the results provided a snapshot of the pandemic's impacts on student achievement. Although scores fell in both math and reading in grades 4 and 8, the decline in math scores was particularly precipitous, with grade 4 scores dropping 5 points and grade 8 scores dropping 8 points. If you read our most recent newsletter, you'll know that we wondered how Central region scores aligned to this national trend. We encourage you to review the newsletter for the full tables, but in short, we found similar declines in math scores in both grades 4 and 8, ranging from 2 to 10 percent.

Why math matters

Although most parents and math educators have been on the receiving end of questions from students about why they need to know math (often followed by a plaintive "I'll never use this"), research indicates that students' math achievement is related to a host of long-term consequential outcomes, including well-being, satisfaction with life, health, wages, and employability (Lipnevich et al., 2016).

However, research also indicates that students who are at a disadvantage in math early in their schooling may be less likely to ever attain those outcomes. Students in early elementary grades who start out with high achievement in math often grow at a faster pace than students who start out with low achievement, leading to an ever-widening gap between high and low achievers (Hansen et al., 2017; Lu, 2016; Scammacca et al., 2020). Additionally, students who are not proficient in grade 4 math are unlikely to be proficient on grade 8 math assessments (Dougherty & Fleming, 2012), and students who fail middle school math courses are less likely to graduate from high school (Balfanz & Herzog, 2005). Further, high school math proficiency is a predictor of college success and access to high-paying professions (Rose & Betts, 2001).

We know that higher-level math proficiency is built on a strong foundation of early math learning, so it is incumbent on policymakers and schools to consider ways to accelerate learning for students who may have fallen behind. REL Central is working with multiple partnerships within the Central region to focus on just that.

Math-focused partnerships in the Central region

Several REL Central partnerships and projects in different stages of development focus on supporting partners in their efforts to provide all students with opportunities to succeed in math. Our last blog highlighted the Strengthening Culture-based Elementary Math Education in Standing Rock Partnership, and an upcoming blog this spring will focus on math work underway to support the transition to math success in grade 9 in Denver Public Schools. We're also working with partners in North Dakota to help educators leverage technology to differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs in math classrooms. And finally, REL Central is partnering with Lincoln Public Schools and other partners in Nebraska to develop the Toolkit to Support Evidence-Based Algebra Instruction in Middle and High School, which will be designed to support teachers' use of the three recommended practices included in the related What Works Clearinghouse practice guide and will be available across the REL Central region and beyond. REL Central will also conduct a rigorous study of the toolkit's impact on teachers and students in the REL Central region.

We co-design and co-develop our projects with our partners to support their work, and all of our work with partnership members focuses on ensuring that the intended project outcomes reflect each partnership's specific needs and system contexts. We invite you to continue to watch this space for more information on our partnership work, and we look forward to sharing our progress along the way.


Balfanz, R., & Herzog, L. (2005, March). Keeping middle grade students on-track to graduation: Initial analysis and implications [Conference presentation]. Second Regional Middle Grades Symposium, Philadelphia, PA.

Dougherty, C., & Fleming, S. (2012). Getting students on track to college and career readiness: How many catch up from far behind? ACT.

Hansen, N., Jordan, N. C., & Rodrigues, J. (2017). Identifying learning difficulties with fractions: A longitudinal
study of student growth from third through sixth grade. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 50, 45–59.

Lipnevich, A. A., Preckel, F., & Krumm, S. (2016). Mathematics attitudes and their unique contribution to
achievement: Going over and above cognitive ability and personality. Learning and Individual Differences, 47, 70–79.

Lu, Y. (2016). Modeling math growth trajectory—An application of conventional growth curve model and growth mixture model to ECLS K-5 Data. Journal of Educational Issues, 2(1), 166–184.

Rose, H., & Betts, J. R. (2001). Math matters: The links between high school curriculum, college graduation, and earnings. Public Policy Institute of California.

Scammacca, N., Fall, A. M., Capin, P., Roberts, G., & Swanson, E. (2020). Examining factors affecting reading and math growth and achievement gaps in grades 1–5: A cohort-sequential longitudinal approach. Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(4), 718–734.


Jose Aguayo

Kirsten Miller

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