Complex Equations: Algebra Instructions in the Common Core Era

This three-year study funded by the W.T. Grant Foundation seeks to understand the ways in which middle school algebra instruction is changing in the early years of the Common Core era.

Its focus is on the ways Common Core algebra instruction is implemented in middle school classrooms and how implementation is influenced by classroom composition and curriculum materials.

Data collection efforts are focused on California, where more than two decades of unevenly-enforced efforts to enroll more 8th graders in algebra has created a situation where some schools place nearly all students in algebra in that grade and others differentiate students into lower-level courses using strict skills-based placement guidelines.

By studying instruction and learning during the first three years of full CCSS standards and assessment implementation, we hope to better understand how these new standards influence student opportunities to learn algebra.

This question is particularly relevant in middle school mathematics, since algebra instruction is often a key point in the creation of academic tracks.

The Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (SEC) and the SEC content analysis methodology is being used in the study led by Morgan Polikoff of the University of Sothern California to assist in measuring the effects of CCSS, student demographics and curriculum materials play on opportunity to learn (OTL), and in turn the impact of OTL on student achievement. 

Using this multi-dimensional model for describing both the intended and enacted curricula, as mediated by textbooks and other curricular materials, we expect to be able to discern the effects of OTL in answering the following questions:

  1. How does the form and content of algebra instruction vary within and between school districts, and how does it change over time in the early years of Common Core implementation?
  2. To what extent does the distribution of student demographics and measured student skills within middle school mathematics classrooms explain variation in the form and content of algebra instruction to which students are exposed?
  3. To what extent do differences in textbooks and other curriculum materials explain differences in the form and content of algebra instruction across districts, schools, and classrooms?
  4. To what extent is the form and content of algebra instruction associated with student achievement gains? 


Completed on October 31, 2017

Contact Information

John Smithson