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New Mexico State University to lead mathematic reform research

The National Science Foundation has awarded New Mexico State University in partnership with the Las Cruces Public Schools a $1.5 million discovery research grant to begin building a research model that will reform and improve mathematics achievement in teaching and student learning.

The grant, titled Scaling Up Mathematics Achievement (SUMA), is a research project designed to provide research staff and district personnel with qualitative and quantitative data that can help them increase mathematic achievement at the K-8 level.

Cathy Kinzer, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at NMSU is SUMA's principle investigator. Karin Wiburg, associate dean for research for NMSU's College of Education, and Liz Maruffo of LCPS serve as SUMA's co-principle investigators. They will work closely with top mathematics researchers from universities around the nation to conduct SUMA's research.

Wiburg said fewer students in America are pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields partly because they are unprepared in mathematics.

"Across the country it is an issue," Kinzer said. "Schools are looking for help to see how they can improve mathematics teaching and learning."

And that is where SUMA plans to help districts. By using a form of scientific research called "design-based research," SUMA will be able to consistently provide feedback to the district while they continue to conduct further research. The mathematics program being implemented then can be continuously redesigned and improved.

The first SUMA advisory meeting will be held in December, which will bring contributing math experts from the University of Michigan, University of Illinois, University of New Mexico, Rutgers, University of Colorado and University of Miami to NMSU.

The grant was awarded to NMSU researchers this fall based on prior evidence of the success of Mathematically Connected Communities (MC2) and a related project implemented at the Gasden Independent School District in New Mexico.

"In our partner districts, we were able to lessen the achievement gap and raise the student achievement scores in mathematics," Kinzer said. "The grant will help us see if the successes we had in changing mathematics teaching and learning could be adapted or useful in a larger, more diverse school district."

Kinzer said this problem-solving math approach is a fresh direction away from only focusing on procedural math that has been taught traditionally in many districts around the nation, which requires students to do more memorizing than making sense of the mathematics.

"It involves a deeper understanding of the math concepts," Wiburg said. "Making connections and making sense of the math so they can actually apply it to their lives."

The main difference between the mathematics model researched by SUMA and other attempts to reform mathematic achievement is it is designed to work with an entire school district, not just trying to improve achievement with a small number of teachers and children. It is necessary to research and learn through the district in terms of how math is taught to provide access for all children to learn a richer, engaging and challenging mathematics curriculum.