Evaluating the March Mathness Contenders

March MATHness is a month-long tournament hosted by the Collaborative for Student Success to spotlight leading math initiatives in states and school districts. You can learn more about March MATHness here and can dig into each judge’s scorecards on EduProgress, CurriculumHQ, and AssessmentHQ.

As March Mathness kicks off this week, I’m excited to be teaming up with the Collaborative for Student Success, Jocelyn Pickford, and Dale Chu to look for the most promising interventions to get kids back on track. 

Before making my first-round selections, there are three main criteria I’m going to be looking for as I evaluate the field: 

  1. Implementation: A strong theory of action is good, but a successfully implemented program is better. 
  2. Scale: Size matters, and a program serving more kids is better than one with a more limited reach.  
  3. Evidence: A true contender needs to be able to show that it is meaningfully moving the needle on student math scores. Quality matters here too, and stronger research evidence is better than weaker (or no) evidence.  

Now onto my picks… 


Play-in Round: Louisiana “Back to Basics in Math” vs. California’s Math Framework 

The California Math Framework deserves credit for seeking to help kids develop a love of math. But my praise ends there. It loses points for being a long guidance document that doesn’t require districts to take any particular action. Worse, it distorts some of the research around math fluency, and it could discourage districts from accelerating middle school students who are ready for algebra. 

Louisiana hasn’t garnered the media attention California has, but it responded to pandemic-era math declines with a statewide push to help train current and future elementary and middle school teachers in essential math skills, and it provided them with a comprehensive set of lesson plans. 

Pick: Louisiana’s “Back to Basics” 


Alabama Numeracy Act vs. Kentucky HB 162 

The Kentucky bill looks promising, especially the provision that would require districts to adopt universal screening tools, but for now it’s just a good idea. But the Alabama Numeracy Act gets through easily here. Its thoughtful, well-rounded approach merited the #1 seed here, and I expect we’ll have more to say about it in later rounds. 

Pick: Alabama Numeracy Act


Arkansas LEARNS Act vs. Delaware Math Coalition 

The Delaware Math Coalition is an inspiring collaborative effort among math leaders in Delaware school districts, but it’s a voluntary coalition and doesn’t have the reach (nor the program clarity) that the Arkansas LEARNS Act has. By next year, the Arkansas LEARNS Act will require schools to develop a math intervention plan for 3rd-8th graders not performing at grade level, and it deserves to move on here. 

Pick: Arkansas LEARNS Act


Colorado’s House Bill 23-1231 vs. West Virginia’s Third Grade Success Act

Our first upset! The Colorado bill has a lot of nice ingredients: Training for teachers; a curated list of high-quality curricula, assessments, and interventions; plus a couple competitive grant programs that aim to accelerate learning in winning districts. The problem is that these are all voluntary. The state Department of Education says it, “strongly encourages school district boards of education and institute charter to adopt procedures for schools to provide support to students.” 

In contrast, the West Virginia Third Grade Success Act requires its department of education to establish, “an approved list of screeners/benchmarks in… mathematics for K-3 students which must be given in the first 30 days of the school year then repeated at mid-year and end-of-year.” That’s a strong requirement, and it deserves to advance. 

Pick: West Virginia’s 3rd Grade Success Act


Statewide Adoption of Zearn (NE, LA, CO, OH) vs. Alabama’s Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL)

This is a tough one! The Alabama Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL) is actively targeting summer learning loss. It serves about 2,000 mostly low-income kids a year (and has for the last decade). It tracks the number of hours of instruction students receive, their attendance rates, and their learning gains in reading and math. 

Zearn is a high-quality program that also tracks the achievement gains its “consistent” users make. It has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of students given its state partnerships, but how many students and teachers use it regularly? That data is harder to find, so it loses a close match here. 

Pick: Alabama SAIL


Kentucky’s Math Achievement Fund vs. The AI-Powered Khanmigo

This match-up is a contrast of opposites. On one side we have Sal Khan’s AI-powered “Khanmigo,” which has the most buzz leading into the tournament. Khan’s TED Talk has a couple million views, and the new tool has received fawning write-ups by CNN and The Washington Post. Except… Khanmigo has a tendency to make mistakes (hallucinate), other AI-powered models continue to struggle with geometry, and it’s unclear if the AI revolution will be able to succeed at teaching kids math. 

Meanwhile, we have the Kentucky Math Achievement Fund. Created in 2005, it’s the oldest statewide K-3 mathematics intervention program. It’s a comprehensive program that includes a universal screener, tiered interventions, and financial support for schools to offer release time to math coaches and strengthen collaboration across teachers. Plus, a CALDER research study found that it drove significant student gains in math plus spillover benefits in reading, attendance, and student behavior. 

Pick: Kentucky Math Achievement Fund 


Massachusetts’ Math Acceleration Academies vs. New Jersey Tutoring Corps/Rekindle Education

We highlighted the Massachusetts Math Acceleration Academies as part of our effort to spotlight promising practices using the ESSER federal relief funds. It provided $6 million to participating districts to pair lower-performing students with the most effective educators. It seemed like a promising model, but it’s unclear if it will continue after the ESSER funds expire. 

The New Jersey Tutoring Corps is an example of a homegrown tutoring provider. It has served 8,000 students at 55 different sites using three different service models. It reports that students make strong gains through their program. 

Pick: New Jersey Tutoring Corps 


Automatic Enrollment in Math vs. Louisiana’s “Back to Basics in Math” 

I already covered Louisiana’s “Back to Basics” initiative. It relies on professional development and high-quality supports for teachers, but doesn’t yet have any impact data. 

Automatic enrollment is the idea that test results can be a good barometer for finding students who are ready for more advanced courses and materials. Not only that, but automatic enrollment policies remove some of the structural barriers that have kept qualified low-income, Black, and Hispanic students out of those opportunities. My colleague Dale Chu and I recently wrote up a big new automatic enrollment initiative in Texas, but there’s also strong positive evidence of its effects in North Carolina and Washington state. 

Pick: Automatic enrollment


Performance-Based Tutoring Contracts vs. Texas Math Solution

The Texas Math Solution is a Carnegie Learning tech product that promises a combination of digital textbook plus quizzes and real-time insights. It boasts impressively large gains–a 333% gain on the state math tests. That’s not a typo, but it is hard to believe. 

Performance-based tutoring contracts literally are a guarantee. By baking performance into the contract, districts can ensure buy-in from tutoring providers to collaborate to get students to the sessions, teach them the content they need to learn, and monitor their progress along the way. 

Pick: Performance-based tutoring contracts 

About Chad Aldeman



Chad Aldeman is a nationally recognized expert on education policy, including school finance; teacher preparation, evaluation, and compensation; and state standards, assessment, and accountability. Keep up with Chad on the EduProgess: Unpacked blog.

About the Author

Chad Aldeman is a nationally recognized expert on education policy, including school finance; teacher preparation, evaluation, and compensation; and state standards, assessment, and accountability. Keep up with Chad on the EduProgess: Unpacked blog.

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