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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations
assignment was to collect the evaluation studies of certain mathematics curricula developed by for-profit companies or with National Science Foundation (NSF) funds, or by a combination of the two, and to assess their quality. This report presents our conclusions and provides recommendations for improvements to the evaluation process.
NEED FOR THIS STUDY
Between 1990 and 2007, the NSF will have devoted an estimated $93 million, including funding for revisions, to 13 mathematics projects to “stimulate the development of exemplary educational models and materials (incorporating the most recent advances in subject matter, research in teaching and learning, and instructional technology) and facilitate their use in the schools” (NSF, 1989, p. 1). As these NSF-supported materials, which were informed by the publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards (NCTM, 1989), gained visibility, publishers also produced curriculum materials aligned with NCTM Standards or developed alternative approaches based on other standards.
These standards were viewed as a promising new approach for translating and infusing research results into classroom practice across the United States. Although each NSF-supported curriculum underwent individual evaluations, little emphasis was placed on reaching consensus about the particular aspects of the curricula to be analyzed or methods to be used. Furthermore, until these curricula had been used for a significant amount of time, no meta-analysis of NSF efforts as a whole in supporting new mathematics curricula could be undertaken.
In 1999, the U.S. Department of Education convened a Panel on Exemplary Programs in Mathematics whose recommended curriculum programs generated much controversy (Klein et al., 1999). Documented evidence of a curriculum’s effectiveness was included in the Panel’s criteria. Part of the controversy concerned the quality of this evidence. Because the NSF-supported materials have been marketed longer and additional evaluation studies have been conducted, reexamination of the adequacy of the evaluations is timely.
Such examination is essential because several factors indicate that the conditions that motivated NSF funding of those curriculum projects may still persist (McKnight et al., 1987; Schmidt, McKnight, and Raizen, 1996). The United States may not be meeting its own mathematical needs in producing students who are capable, interested, and successful in the following areas: