Math Scores Down? How Districts Are Improving Results

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By: ExploreLearning

There’s frequent talk about math proficiency and proficiency levels, especially when it comes to analyzing student achievement at local and national levels. In Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics, the National Research Council presented the five interconnected strands of mathematical proficiency: conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition. In order to be successful, students must connect pieces of knowledge to solve problems productively.

 But what’s the reality of math proficiency levels across the country?


Understanding the state of math proficiency levels

In the classroom, teachers monitor and assess students using both formative and summative assessments. They frequently evaluate student data and are pros at adapting to meet the needs of students.

 At the school level, principals monitor and analyze grade-level performance, test scores, and overall learner growth (often using assessments like NWEA MAP Growth). From a broader view, districts examine school-level performance, overarching standardized math assessment results, and state test scores. Student data should provide an opportunity to celebrate exciting achievements, but the reality of dismal test scores in math at the state and national level can be discouraging.


Are math scores declining in the U.S.?

In short, yes. Take a look at the national math scores, and you’ll see significant declines in math proficiency levels. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trend assessment data from the 2022-23 school year revealed significant declines in math, with average scores being 9 points lower than in 2020 and 14 points lower than a decade ago. The 2023 math scores for 13-year-olds at all five percentile levels declined compared to 2020. The results were even more staggering for students already struggling with math – these students experienced even larger declines compared to their higher-performing peers.

 These decreased math score realities swept all pockets of the nation, including low-income students and students from wealthier families, boys and girls, and most racial and ethnic groups. What caused this decreased math achievement? Research shows COVID-19 significantly influenced the overall decline in students’ math scores. In addition to post-pandemic effects, there are more students overall with severe needs in math, teachers are stretched thin, and serious math interventions require time and money.

Strategies for enhancing math instruction and boosting test scores

It's clear that evidence-based solutions are needed, but instantly improving math scores is no easy task. Not only do these efforts require significant time, but they are also influenced by adequate funding, resources, and staffing. Here are some strategies to increase awareness and improve math scores. 

Unpack assessment results alongside teachers by identifying the standards and benchmarks that students still need to reach in order to improve their standardized math test scores. Examine results to identify the key areas where students are struggling with math. Create a shared understanding of why specific math concepts are important for your school or district’s success.


Turning the tide: How Reflex and Frax empower districts to enhance math scores and instruction

Educators nationwide are closing achievement gaps, improving math scores, and experiencing success with ExploreLearning math solutions. Reflex is the most effective math fact fluency solution for grades 2-6. Using adaptive games and frequent rewards, Reflex continuously monitors students’ performance to help them achieve accomplishments at their own pace.

And research shows that when students use ExploreLearning Frax—an adaptive, game-based program for fractions mastery—they achieve significantly larger growth in math compared to non-users. As students progress through carefully scaffolded tasks, they develop a deep conceptual understanding of fractions and magnitude, which is vital for future success with algebra and advanced problem-solving with fractions.

Florida research: The impact of Reflex and Frax

In a large, suburban school district in Florida, researchers analyzed 2,530 students who used Frax. The ESSA Tier 2 research measured the change in students’ i-Ready Diagnostic math assessments from fall to spring to measure the impact of Frax usage on student achievement. Students in the school district who used Frax:

  • Met or exceeded growth benchmarks at significantly higher rates
  • Achieved a significantly higher percentage of expected growth
  • Were significantly more likely to reach or exceed grade-level proficiency in the spring, regardless of fall achievement levels

The results are even stronger when students use both Reflex and Frax. Research in a large suburban Florida school district found that across all three achievement levels, grade 3 and 4 students who used Reflex and Frax experienced significant academic growth in short periods of time with larger score gains compared to non-users. The most academically at-risk excelled at even greater rates. Frax and Reflex users who scored two or more grade levels below in the fall had 56% greater scale score gains and were nearly three times as likely to reach their stretch growth goals.

Additionally, NAEP scores increased in Miami-Dade County Public Schools after the district implemented Reflex.

“Reflex and Frax are transformative tools for our educators to leverage to meet the needs of students of all levels. Reflex and Frax have far exceeded all of our other platforms in terms of engaging and interactive activities, immediate feedback, and tools for tracking progress.”-K-12 Director of Mathematics and Instructional Technology

Read the full article from ExploreLearning or get in touch to learn more about Reflex and Frax.