Secondary Education

Ivan Cheng Mentioned by the L.A. Coalition - Insights on L.A.

January 6, 2021

From the L.A. Coalition on Insights on L.A.

"Learning Loss in K-8 Math

Quantifying Learning Loss: The growing number of reports assessing the pandemic’s impact on learning have enabled a more nuanced understanding of the effects across demographic groups and academic subjects. 

While their scopes and methodologies may differ, the general consensus is that learning loss in K-8 math is most acute.  

The most widely discussed report comes from NWEA, a nonprofit that administers pre-K-12 learning assessments. Their study compared NWEA’s assessment results from fall 2019 to fall 2020 for 4.4 million students enrolled in grades 3-8 across 8,000 U.S. schools. While reading performance appeared to be similar to the year prior, math performance dropped anywhere between 5-10 percentage points.

A Caveat: As with similar studies, the NWEA’s data is missing student groups especially vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic as they may not have been available for online assessments. As a result, comparative outcomes across student groups is not fully known and the pandemic’s overall impact likely underestimated.  

A Promising Approach to Teaching Math: This data is alarming, particularly when only one-third of K-12 students in LAUSD were grade level proficient in math prior to the pandemic. 

However, there are research driven approaches to math instruction that are highly effective and engaging, with great potential to scale in our region. Ivan Cheng, a secondary education professor at CSUN (L.A. Coalition member), and his team of research collaborators at the university recently concluded a $3-million Investing in Innovation (i3) Department of Education research grant to study the impact of a breakthrough mathematics teaching method aligned to Common Core standards.

The new approach consists of a collaborative teaching cohort where teachers meet to discuss how to create lesson activities for their students, while having access to a tablet app called the “Discovery Learning App” that makes it quick and easy to create great lesson activities and assessments. This is in sharp contrast to the traditional approach, whereby teachers work independently through each chapter of a textbook that may no longer be aligned with the Common Core. 

Furthermore, lesson activities are developed so that they provide a pathway for students to make connections and recognize relationships, with multiple representations of the same mathematical ideas, e.g. through graphical representation vs. verbal expressions, rather than focusing primarily on the procedure to get to a correct answer. 

A randomized controlled trial of over 4,600 students in 10 districts in California demonstrated a large statistically significant positive effect on the group taught according to the methodology vs the group taught by traditional methods. Most impressively, the intervention eliminated the achievement gap for English Learners on the SmarterBalanced proficiency test for 8th grade students. 

Building Back Stronger: A heightened sense of urgency created by the pandemic also comes with a heightened opportunity to build back stronger. The team at CSUN is working to make this breakthrough method scalable by making it easy and convenient for teachers to make the shift.  

They are doing so through two primary components: 1) an online “vending machine” of modifiable lesson activities aligned to the teachers’ core curriculum, and 2) coaching support to help teachers leverage their students’ cultural assets to make the learning experience relevant and rigorous. 

To learn more, please contact Leah Johnson, Deputy Director of Workforce Development, at"