Math curricula and interventions

Strategy overview

  • Building foundational skills: Evidence-based math curricula and interventions are designed to help K-12 students develop math skills, knowledge, and problem-solving abilities. Math curricula and interventions are generally split into two buckets: primary school (K-8) and secondary (9-12). Increasingly, many curricula are tied to local, state, and federal standards, which emphasize connecting and applying deep conceptual knowledge with skills, rather than a focus on process.
  • Connecting concepts and skills to solve problems: Math curricula for students in kindergarten through eighth grade generally focus on connecting core concepts and key technical and computational skills. Generally, curricula are designed to support teachers in creating this connection through lessons and activities focused on problem solving, communicating mathematical thinking, and real-world applications.
  • Focusing on subject areas in high school: Evidence-based curricula for high school students generally focus on specific subject areas. Foundational subjects include algebra, geometry, and calculus. Other common topics include statistics and probability and trigonometry. Particularly effective curricula focus on teaching students to make connections between disparate core concepts, communicate their thinking, and take multiple approaches to problem solving.
  • Selecting a curriculum to fit student, school needs: Evidence-based math curricula vary significantly in terms of scope and scale. Some are core curricula, serving as the foundation for all math learning throughout the school year for an entire grade; others are short-term interventions focused on developing a specific skill (i.e. multiplication), which can be delivered either grade-wide or for a subset of students.
  • Accelerating student learning: An increasingly common approach to supplementing a core curriculum is through high-dosage tutoring programs, which provide intensive learning for individual students or small groups. High-dosage tutoring — which has proven effective for students of all ages and across content areas — is most impactful when integrated into the standard school day and delivered to the students who are most behind their classmates in academic progress.
  • Training teachers: Many evidence-based curricula and interventions include significant training before the school year for the teachers who will deliver the model. Such training allows teachers to familiarize themselves with broader subject areas (i.e. fractions) and the specific model before engaging with students. This is often supplemented by intermittent professional development workshops that help teachers make class- and student-specific adaptations as the school year progresses.
Issue Areas
K-12 education
Target Population
All school-aged children
Key Stakeholders
District or School Leadership, Instructional Coaches/Content Leaders, Teachers, Nonprofit Partners, Families, Program Evaluation Team

What evidence supports this strategy?

Proven

Systematic reviews of individual models show that numerous evidence-based curricula led to statistically significant improvements in at least one aspect of math competency, such as geometry and measurement skills, number and operation skills, and general math achievement.

  • A 2015 research synthesis found that Everyday Mathematics, a math core curriculum for students in grades pre-K-6, produced positive effects on math achievement for students (11 percentile point average increase on the review's improvement index).
  • A 2021 research synthesis found that high-dosage tutoring dramatically improved student performance in math and literacy, with students recovering between 3-15 months of learning and advancing an average of 16 percentile points on standardized tests.
  • A 2020 research synthesis found that Fraction Face-Off!, a supplemental math program for fourth-graders who need help with fractions, produced positive effects on geometry and measurement skills, number and operations skills, and general math achievement.
  • A 2020 research synthesis found that Odyssey Math, a web-based math program designed for students in grades K-8, produced positive effects on math achievement (12 percentile point average increase on the review's improvement index).

How do math curricula and interventions impact economic mobility?

  • Graduating from high school and enrolling in college: As a core academic subject, competency in K-12 mathematics can be one of the most significant academic barriers to high school graduation and enrollment in a postsecondary institution. Proficiency in math through K-12, research shows, is a key predictor of postsecondary success.
  • Increasing stable employment and wages: Demonstrated math proficiency during the K-12 period is associated with higher wages, lower rates of unemployment, and increased interest from high-quality employers.

Best practices in implementation

  • Equip teachers to deliver curricula with fidelity: Many curricula and related interventions provide robust training for teachers to deliver the model, along with ongoing professional development, and, in some cases, a credential. Ensuring that selected curricula have sufficient training programming and materials will better position teachers to effectively deliver the model with fidelity — a key factor in increasing impact.
  • Align curricula selection to student, school needs and state standards: With the proliferation of evidence-based math curricula available, school districts have the opportunity to be highly selective. Prior to evaluating curricula, conduct a needs assessment to understand what types of features a curriculum should include, such as specialized programming for students with disabilities or English Language Learners. Curricula should also be scored against ESSA and any other relevant standards to ensure sufficient alignment.
  • Offer high-dosage tutoring: For some students, evidence-based curricula should be supplemented with learning recovery programming and practices. To accelerate student learning in math across all grade levels, evaluate high-dosage tutoring models. Effective tutoring requires dedicated staff, who should have the capacity to tutor individuals or small groups of students at least three times per week; use of data management tools; and dedicated school time to align lessons and materials with classroom content and curricula.
  • Equip teachers with measurement tools: Math curricula offer teachers frequent opportunities for data collection and evaluation. Evidence-based practices that can support math development include progress monitoring (tracking individual student performance against curriculum-specific benchmarks) and error analysis (documenting and reviewing individual errors to identify student- and class-wide trends). By equipping teachers with appropriate software and dedicated work time for measurement and analysis activities, they can better refine their approach to delivering the curriculum.

Evidence-based examples

Secondary school math curriculum emphasizing connections between verbal, numeric, graphic, and algebraic representations of problems
Elementary and middle school success
Proven
Comprehensive Pre-K through grade 6 mathematics program
Elementary and middle school success
Strong
Supplemental curriculum focused on teaching fourth-graders to master fractions
Elementary and middle school success
Strong
Intensive learning for individual students or small groups to supplement school curriculum 
Elementary and middle school success High school graduation
Strong
Three-year program to help middle-school students develop mathematical thinking and communications ability
Elementary and middle school success
Strong