Teachers need training in new math texts, study finds
(Mass.) The adoption of the Common Core State Standards led schools in many states to switch curricula and adopt new textbooks, but a team of researchers found that teachers receive little training in the use of their texts, which may be hindering student gains.
In a study released this week, led by researchers from Harvard University, concluded that textbook choice alone does not seem to boost student achievement–particularly in elementary-level mathematics. But, they said, the advantages of specific curricula could emerge with greater supports for classroom implementation.
“Some leaders may see the adoption of a new curriculum as an ‘easy, inexpensive and quick’ alternative to more controversial, expensive, or time-consuming policies such as teacher evaluation or classroom coaching,” Tom Kane, a professor of education and economics at Harvard and lead author of the report, said in a statement. “It may be a mistake to think of curriculum choice and teaching reforms as alternative ways of improving student outcomes. Rather, to gain the benefits of either, districts may need to do both.”
Focusing on elementary math textbooks in a sample of more than 6,000 schools across six states, the study showed the average growth in math achievement in 4th and 5th grade was about the same, regardless of which textbook the schools were using. And no single text consistently stood out as a high- or low-performer.
Using data on math textbook adoptions in California, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington State and New Mexico from the 2014-15 school year through the 2016-17 school year, researchers found of the 38 textbooks observed in the study sample, only five have been evaluated in a manner meeting the highest evidence standards of the federal What Works Clearinghouse. Of those five, only three were among the top fifteen most commonly used textbooks in the study sample.
Authors of the report–which included researchers from the University of Maryland, the University of Southern California, Dartmouth College, Tulane University and the University of California, Davis–noted that the findings don’t mean that curriculum choice does not matter. Rather, they wrote, the results highlight the need for additional training to help educators better use their textbooks.
In a survey of more than 1,200 teachers, researchers found that while 93 percent of teachers reported using the official textbook for some purpose in a majority of their classes, just 25 percent said they used the textbook in nearly all of their lessons and for multiple, essential purposes, including to select examples to present in class or as a source of practice problems that students work on independently during class time.
Many educators said they relied heavily on supplemental materials for a variety of reasons. Some, for instance, said their textbook didn’t cover the standards they were trying to teach, while others found the book used by their school to be too easy or too hard for their students.
Meanwhile, the average teacher reported receiving just one day of training in the use of their texts in the year they were surveyed, and fewer than four days over their entire careers. Even in the schools with above-average levels of training, researchers found that teachers reported receiving just six days of training in their text over the course of their careers.
Researchers concluded that even for strong curriculum with relevant textbooks, additional support is needed to ensure the materials have a positive effect on student achievement.