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Teaching Math in Washington’s High Schools:
Insights from a Survey of Teachers in High Performing
or Improving Schools

Conducted by: University of Washington, College of Education for The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Released: June 30, 2007 (PDF)

This study gives information about teaching mathematics in Washington’s high schools including: teachers’ views of their content knowledge, their instructional strategies, and the role that schools and districts play in helping them improve their instruction. Ninety high schools with approximately 700 math teachers were selected for the study based on showing steady improvement or strong performance on the 10th grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning (mathematics) over time.

Key Findings: The findings are organized into the following categories: Assignment, Preparation and Experience; Instructional Strategies, Assessment and Differential Supports for Students; Textbooks and Instructional Materials; Collaboration and Supports for Math Teachers; Successful School and Teacher Practices; and Policy Recommendations.

Assignment, Preparation and Experience

  • Teachers feel well-prepared for their assignment and have the right knowledge to design and offer instruction for their students.
  • Most teachers’ current assignment is closely matched to their training, and nearly all report having a major or minor in math.
  • Many teachers express they do not have the right materials to support instruction and the right professional instruction.
  • Teaching experience matters. Teachers with less experience lack confidence in their knowledge and skills and have fewer strategies for instruction and assessment.

Instructional Strategies, Assessment and Differential Supports for Students

  • Teachers indicate that they use multiple instructional strategies and emphasize problem-solving and critical thinking in their classrooms.
  • The vast majority of teachers agree that their own efforts as a teacher can significantly impact student learning.
  • Teachers report feeling less prepared to use assessments to adjust instruction than in other aspects of their teaching.
  • Most schools offer a variety of programs and activities to support student learning in mathematics.
  • Teachers indicate their greatest challenges in working with students who are struggling in math are the lack of one-on-one assistance and the variety of learning needs in the classroom.

Textbooks and Instructional Materials

  • Teachers are not overly satisfied with the math textbooks they are using.
  • A lack of appropriate curriculum and textbooks to work with struggling students is identified as a moderate or great challenge by 38 percent of teachers, and nearly half of all novice teachers report this sentiment.
  • 72 percent of teachers use computers or other technology in their classrooms with some frequency, although not all teachers have equal access to technological tools.

Collaboration and Supports for Math Teachers

  • Teachers report that a strong sense of professional community is a key factor in their school’s success in working with mathematics students.

Successful School and Teacher Practices

  • The teachers surveyed overwhelmingly attribute their school’s success in mathematics to the quality of instruction by math teachers, followed by a strong sense of professional community.
  • Teachers agree that leadership at their school works hard to help them improve their performance and attribute the success at their school in part to school leadership that supports mathematics improvement.

Policy Recommendations

  • Maintain a focus on preparing and recruiting math teachers with strong preparation and subject matter knowledge.
  • Reinforce efforts by higher education institutions to strengthen pathways into teaching for aspiring mathematics teachers.
  • Provide opportunities for math teachers currently in the workforce to upgrade their knowledge and skills.
  • Focus on helping teachers improve their ability to use assessments to identify student learning needs and adjust instruction.
  • Focus on the selection of high-quality texts and curricular materials that are linked to learning expectations and provide supports for students who struggle in math. Provide training and support to teachers on the use of adopted texts and materials.
  • Provide professional development, including regular teacher collaboration and opportunities to observe other teachers.
  • Create working conditions that support the establishment of a collaborative professional culture around mathematics curriculum and instruction.
  • Build a better base of information about teachers, teaching and support for teachers’ work to answer important questions about the state’s teacher workforce.

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