Iowa Council
of Teachers
of Mathematics

Improving Student Achievement In Mathematics

Iowa Council Of Teachers Of Mathematics
Recommendations For The State Of Iowa

Approved by the ICTM Executive Board - Summer, 2012

The Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics (ICTM) is a professional organization for mathematics teachers, pre-K through university, working towards the improvement of mathematics education in Iowa. ICTM has been serving the schools in Iowa, and mathematics teachers in Iowa for nearly forty years.

Current Status

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2009) data indicates that in 1992 Iowa ranked at the top of the country in mathematics achievement, at both grade 4 and grade 8. That has changed dramatically. Over the past nineteen years, nearly all states have increased their mathematics achievement more than Iowa has. Compared to other states in 2009, NAEP data demonstrates that Iowa is currently average at grade 4 and slightly below average at grade 8. This is not the proud competitive educational status for which Iowa was known.

What Has Worked For Other States

How did other states improve achievement in mathematics more than Iowa did? Many of the differences started with the State Systemic Initiatives in the middle 1990s. Additionally, Iowa has recently missed out on federal Race to the Top funds. Those federal funds, together with state and private support, enabled other states to initiate several actions that have made a difference, including:

1. aligning curriculum and assessment

2. encouraging elementary mathematics specialists or coaches at each elementary school building

3. organizing and conducting ongoing professional development for all mathematics teachers K-12

4. strongly encouraging or requiring schools to offer mathematics at least one hour a day for all students K-12

ICTM Recommendations For Iowa

Now a collaborative state-wide effort, with some state and local funds and actions, is needed to make a difference. The following recommendations have emerged from the results of a survey of the ICTM membership designed to collect ideas from teachers to improve mathematics achievement. All of the recommendations have strong support of the membership of ICTM and the Executive Board of ICTM. They also have emerged from successful experiences in other states and are based on sound research that is well accepted in the profession. We strongly believe that implementing the recommendations will have a much-needed positive effect on mathematics achievement in Iowa.

Recommendation One: High-stakes tests in Iowa should be aligned with the expectations of the Iowa Core. Either funding should be provided so the Department of Education can fully participate in the coalition of states designing and implementing the use of more appropriate tests or the state should use updated ITBS and ITED tests, which include assessment of complex problem solving.

For many years, the Department of Education has promoted NCTM Standards-based teaching practices and a curriculum (Every Student Counts and Iowa Core) to help students develop deep conceptual understanding and complex problem solving skills.

There are two major difficulties with our current high-stakes testing. First, the traditional tests in Iowa are designed to rank students, not determine whether or not they have met established standards. Second, the traditional tests do not assess complex problem solving, one of the key goals of Every Student Counts and the Iowa Core. Consequently, schools trying to stay off of the No Child Left Behind list have little reason to address complex problem solving. Complex problem solving simply is not on the tests.

The Department of Education has already joined a coalition of states working on a new assessment that better aligns with the Common Core, which is aligned with the Iowa Core. This initiative needs to be funded so Iowa can move ahead with an appropriate assessment or the state should use updated ITBS and ITED tests, which include assessment of complex problem solving. This is important because according to the New Standards Exam, only about twenty percent of Iowa students are proficient at complex problem solving.

Recommendation Two: Every elementary school in Iowa should have at least one mathematics specialist with appropriate licensure.

There are programs in a few states now to provide special training for elementary and middle school mathematics specialists or coaches. Research (Campbell, P. F., and Malkus, N. N. (2011). The impact of elementary mathematics coaches on student achievement. The Elementary School Journal, 111, 430-454.) has demonstrated that schools with these trained mathematics coaches have impressive improvements in mathematics achievement.

It is common practice for schools in Iowa to have specialists in literacy, but few have mathematics specialists. Recently, few schools in Iowa have begun to hire mathematics coaches. However, there is no training or licensure required -- a good teacher is often just assigned the position. The intent may be right, however, knowledge of the curriculum, content knowledge of mathematics, and pedagogical content knowledge is often lacking. The Department of Education needs to determine appropriate qualifications for licensure of mathematics specialists. All elementary schools need to be strongly encouraged to have at least one trained mathematics specialist in each building. Schools that have been identified as Schools In Need Of Assistance (SINA) in mathematics should be required to have a mathematics specialist with licensure.

Recommendation Three: A coherent professional development program for mathematics should be developed and required for a team of teachers and administrators from each district with an implementation plan for the other mathematics teachers in their district that encourages collaboration of teachers.

Research has established that professional development is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve achievement. Beginning with the State Systemic Initiative grants in the 1990s, many other states have implemented state-wide professional development for mathematics with high levels of participation.

Iowa's first state-wide effort in mathematics didn't happen until ten years later. But most of Iowa teachers have not participated yet. Professional development that is consistent with Every Student Counts and the Iowa Core need to be provided for all mathematics teachers at all levels and should include at least one teacher from each school building in the state in the near future.

This professional develop should also inform local efforts, with schools providing time and flexibility in scheduling so teachers can develop professional learning communities that include collaboration in planning, use of formative assessment, increasing content knowledge, visiting other mathematics classrooms both in and out of their district, data analysis, and reflection about teaching and learning mathematics.

Recommendation Four: Schools should be strongly encouraged to teach mathematics at least 60 minutes each school day for all students K-12.

There is well-documented research that shows opportunity to learn is directly related to achievement. Over the past twenty years there has been a growing trend for schools across the country to spend more time teaching mathematics. It is common for schools to spend at least 60 minutes a day on mathematics instruction throughout the country.

In contrast, few Iowa schools teach mathematics that many minutes per day. A related concern is the number and types of interruptions (announcements, pull-outs, etc.) that are allowed to disrupt the learning process. Many, if not most middle schools in Iowa, a crucial time in learning mathematics, have expanded their total curriculum and now have class periods that are often only 42-45 minutes per day. It is difficult for these schools to compete with the achievement in other schools where students are getting one-third to one-half more learning time each day.