Math teachers need guidance to better support and instruct youth

California is poised this year to adopt a new statewide math framework that will drive curriculum decisions and pedagogical approaches for years to come. This provides ample opportunity for education leaders to better support educators in offering standards-aligned instruction, according to a new Rand Corporation study.

While the state’s math content standards are not changing, experts note the framework could still shift instruction by providing guidance on how to implement the standards by describing types of instruction, instructional materials and professional development that would best support successful implementation of standards-based instruction.

Drawing on two teacher surveys — the 2022 Learn Together Survey and the 2022 American Instructional Resources Survey — researchers said the data highlights ways in which state and local education leaders can foster equitable instruction in the context of the state’s new framework.

“One recurring theme throughout our data is that teachers serving high-poverty schools and secondary teachers may need more support to implement standards-aligned instruction,” researchers wrote.

For instance, one-third of math teachers in California reported skipping standards-aligned math content occasionally or frequently, often to replace skipped content with content from prior grade levels. Teachers serving high-poverty schools were more likely than those in low-poverty schools to replace that skipped content with content from prior grade levels, although secondary teachers were especially unlikely to replace skipped content.

Additionally, only half of teachers reported regularly using at least one standards-aligned curriculum material. Both secondary teachers and those serving high-poverty youth were less likely than their counterparts to use a standards-aligned math curriculum material, suggesting that students may have disparate access to standards-aligned instructional content.

“These results suggest that a core piece of the state’s challenge in equitably providing students with high-quality math instruction is that all students in California currently do not have the same access to grade-level, standards-aligned instructional content,” researchers wrote. “To support the implementation of the framework’s priorities, teachers will need to shift their mindsets, priorities, and practices. State leaders and other education leaders might consider how they can generate more buy-in for their new priorities, potentially through providing teachers with supports connected to these priorities.”

Other key findings

  • Ninety-one percent of math teachers statewide reported spending the majority of their five most-recent lessons on grade-level, standards-aligned topics.
  • Offering culturally relevant math instruction was not a top priority when selecting instructional tasks or activities — roughly four in 10 teachers said that they had a major or moderate need for more or better culturally relevant curriculum materials.
  • Few middle school teachers reported having advised students on the high school math courses available to them.
  • About half of California math teachers expressed concerns with continuity of programming in their schools, suggesting a need to sustain efforts to improve math instruction in the state.


“Our findings make it clear that teachers prioritize providing students with access to grade-level, standards-aligned instruction — or, where they may struggle to do so, they prioritize providing students with a review of content from prior grades to engage in such learning,” researchers concluded. “Accordingly, state and district leaders will need to consider how they can message their new vision for math instruction in a clear and coherent manner that makes connections between teachers’ priorities and concerns and state leaders’ priorities.”

To accomplish this, the report recommends that policymakers:

  • Provide teachers with the curriculum materials and professional learning to successfully enact culturally relevant math instruction.
  • Integrate statewide goals into the next curriculum adoption cycle and support the equitable adoption of standards-aligned curriculum materials.
  • Provide teachers with support on how to advise students on their future math pathways and create structured opportunities to provide students with equitable access to guidance.
  • Sustain efforts to improve math instruction by messaging a shared vision, coherently embedding supports into multiple aspects of the instructional system, and periodically gathering feedback from teachers.