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Solutions that are supported by research and evidence can help districts as they guide students through learning recovery

Using evidence-based math programs to address learning recovery


Solutions that are supported by research and evidence can help districts as they guide students through learning recovery

Selecting instructional strategies and supplemental resources for supporting student learning recovery shouldn’t be a guessing game. District and school leaders seeking to address learning loss and accelerate growth must consider the importance of evidence-based practices: instructional skills, techniques, and strategies that a study or experiment has shown to be effective.

The latest reports confirm that the pandemic slowed progress in math and reading for millions of U.S. students. As districts seek effective strategies and resources for addressing learning recovery, particularly in math, they should consider investing in evidence-based solutions.

Evidence-based or philosophy-based?

There’s a lot of variability around the instructional advice teachers are given. The strategies covered in education pretraining programs and professional development sessions may not necessarily be consistent with best available evidence – making it all the more important to think critically before investing in a new curriculum or supplemental resource.

Instructional strategies, technologies, and resources that don’t have evidence in the form of a published study, research, or experiment are often philosophy-based, and can be detrimental to students’ academic success. When systems adopt un-tested tools, it is tantamount to conducting unconsented experimentation with school children, which is never a good idea.

Luckily, there are trusted resources available to help educators evaluate the efficacy of math curricula and programs:

  • National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII): Resources to support the selection and evaluation of evidence-based math interventions and assessments.
  • EdReports.org: Free reviews of K-12 instructional materials.
  • Understood.org: A guide to evidence-based math instruction

In the end, there’s no replacement for testing what you implement within your district, school, or classroom. Educators should approach resources with a healthy amount of skepticism and use their best judgment when investing in new programs. You should evaluate what you adopt in your own system, using measures you already have in place along with measures attached to the tool, and you should see evidence of growth within only a few weeks.

Math program “red flags”

Those who are in charge of investing in professional development opportunities, programs, and technologies for their district have a responsibility to promote practices that are supported by evidence. As education leaders seek math programs to support student learning recovery, they should watch out for a few red flags:

  • Outdated information. There’s counterevidence to a program’s methodology or an instructional strategy but the recommendation hasn’t changed.
  • The product, program, or strategy is “too difficult to review.” This is the antithesis of science; all programs can be tested in one way or another.
  • “Magic Solutions.” Any program that has an extreme or too-good-to-be-true claim, but lacks evidence to support it.
  • Solutions that vendors claim take a year or more of use to detect gains.

How evidence-based programs support learning recovery

Evidence-based math programs are valuable for all students ­– including those who are prone to struggling with math. Consider the following benefits of evidence-based math practices compiled by the IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College:

  • Increased likelihood of positive student mathematics outcomes
  • Increased accountability because there are data to back up the selection of a practice or program, which in turn facilitates support from administrators, parents, and others
  • Less wasted time and fewer wasted resources because educators start off with an effective practice or program rather than attempting to select one through trial-and-error
  • Increased likelihood of being responsive to learners’ needs
  • Higher probability of convincing students to try a practice or program because there is evidence that it works

Taking advantage of evidence-based math programs and strategies will aid educators in addressing math learning loss and accelerating growth post-COVID. Like never before, decision makers cannot make investments based upon speculation or hope. Instead, educators must prioritize efficiency choosing the most efficient (in terms of instructional time and resources) method to produce the greatest gains in learning.  

Encourage evidence-based school cultures

Math instruction has been highly susceptible to philosophy-based tactics, like limiting explicit instruction, avoiding fluency-building activities and introducing algorithms, to name a few.

To help students build enduring math confidence and mastery, districts are encouraged to seek solutions supported by research and evidence.

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