The Alignment of eighth-grade mathematics instruction across academic tracks with statewide high stakes tests: Implications for test performance

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This study described the nature of the link between the types of instructional strategies employed in different academic tracks of eighth-grade mathematics classrooms and student achievement on a state performance assessment (PA). Survey data was obtained from 51 teachers in one school district who responded to a two-part questionnaire ascertaining teacher background characteristics and instructional strategies. A reform score was calculated that represented the percent of instructional time devoted to teaching strategies consistent with the focus of the PA. All data were analyzed at the class level, specifically examining any notable differences among tracks.

Across all teachers, variation in instructional strategies was modest. There were no significant differences between mean reform scores across three courses. Yet, for Algebra II, a significant relationship was found between the amount of reform instruction and achievement on the PA. Overall, however, course level was not found to be a moderator between those two variables. Additionally, a model whereby course level acts as a mediator between reform instruction and student performance was not substantiated by the data.

There was an inequitable distribution of teachers with mathematics credentials in the surveyed classrooms, with lower-level courses being taught by teachers with lower certification levels. The finding that credentials influenced achievement above and beyond course level begs further research. Furthermore, how the influences of credentials and pressure from other high-stakes tests manifest themselves in the learning environment would be substantive topics for future studies.

An observational component of this study described teaching styles of three teachers with respect to instructional alignment with expectations implied in State Learning Outcomes. Two of the three teachers were judged to have content- and pedagogical content-knowledge deficiencies, limiting their ability to help students learn mathematics with understanding. The third teacher used pedagogical practices more likely to support the goal of students' learning meaningful mathematics with understanding. This study's qualitative component suggests further research examining teacher knowledge of mathematical content and pedagogy and its links to teacher practices and teacher questioning.