Researchers AIM to Enhance Kindergarten Math Instruction With New Grant

By Rachel Chapdelaine

Virginia’s kindergarten teachers will soon have better guidance around effective math instruction and data use.

The U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences recently awarded a $1.4 million grant to the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), a research center within the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development. The grant will fund Assessment, Instruction and Mathematics in Kindergarten Classrooms (AIM), a four-year study that examines how kindergarten teachers use math assessments to guide instruction and support children’s learning in school.

“Teachers and school districts are being told to assess children and ‘use the data,’ but it is not always clear what that means or whether it really helps children excel,” said Ginny Vitiello, an assistant professor at CASTL and the lead researcher of the AIM study. “We want to go beyond saying that data use is a good thing and really show, empirically, whether teachers are doing it and how it relates to instruction and student gains.”

CASTL researchers will combine multiple methods for the study, including qualitative site visits and interviews with rigorous surveys, assessments and observations. This approach will help researchers uncover how teachers learn about children's math skills at the start of the school year, what teachers do with that information and if it helps them teach more effectively.

With several key areas of learning in kindergarten, why does the study focus on math? According to Vitiello, there are two primary reasons. First, the researchers want to observe individualized instruction in classrooms. To do that well, she said, they need “a careful, deep dive into a single subject area.” Second, Virginia is rolling out a kindergarten math readiness assessment that will provide kindergarten teachers with math data on their students starting this year.

 “We are trying to determine how teachers can use this new assessment data to differentiate instruction for each child, whether differentiating is associated with greater math gains for students and what barriers exist to using assessments effectively in the classroom,” said Vitiello.

Vitiello is hopeful that this study will lead to a framework that will help teachers and districts improve early math instruction and data use in general. But like most observational studies, the research may not answer all questions. 

“Maybe we will learn that all of these assessments are not very useful — even that would be important to know,” said Vitiello. “If that is the case, then the next question will be: How can we make it useful? Or what should teachers be doing to support math development?”

Researchers have partnered with the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program to recruit new schools and conduct site visits. If your school is interested in participating in the study, please contact the project manager, Brittany Rettig, at [email protected].