Checking In: Are Math Assignments Measuring Up?

In this report, the focus on is on the role of classroom assignments in a context of increased rigor for daily learning. The report notes that classroom assignments are strongly reflective of the expectations that educators hold for their learners. By analyzing classroom experiences, it is possible to examine learners' day-to-day classroom experiences. As part of examining how classroom assessments reflect rigorous standards for college- and career-readiness, the Education Trust reviewed more than 1,800 mathematics assignments. These mathematics assignments were collected from 63 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade teachers from urban, suburban, and rural school districts across the United States. Each assessment was reviewed using a framework that examined five key areas: 

  • Alignment to the Common Core;
  • Cognitive challenge;
  • Aspects of rigor;
  • Communicating mathematical understanding; and 
  • Potential for motivation and engagement.

Analyses found that roughly three-fourths of analyzed mathematics assessments were at least partially aligned to the grade- or course-appropriate mathematics content. However, the majority of assignments required low cognitive demand, particularly assignments from high-poverty schools. Assignments were more likely to focus on procedural skill and fluency than they were to focus on conceptual understanding or application of a mathematical concept. Most assignments did not require students to communicate their thinking or justify their responses. 

In response, the Education Trust suggests that educators heighten analysis of classroom assignments to assess cognitive demand and balance between procedural skills and fluency, conceptual understanding, and application. For support, the Education Trust has published the Math Assignment Analysis Guide to support deeper analysis and strengthening of classroom assignments.