Evaluating Mathematics Curriculum to Ensure Success for Multilingual Learners

The Center for Education Market Dynamics

March 7, 2023

Evaluating Mathematics Curriculum to Ensure Success for Multilingual Learners

High-quality instructional materials can help to bridge the language gap and provide the necessary support for language acquisition, making the educational process more inclusive and effective

A key challenge that multilingual learners (MLLs) often face is the need to acquire a new language while simultaneously learning subject-area content. In addition, teachers may not be trained to provide MLLs access to math learning. These two factors can make math learning an overwhelming experience for students and can impede their ability to fully engage in their education. High-quality instructional materials can help meet the demands of these goals. For example, bilingual texts and visual aids can help students understand the content in their primary language, while also gradually building their proficiency in the new language. Materials can also guide teachers to be responsive to students’ current language development in relation to content.

Math is an academic language, so we need to be intentional about the type of support that is embedded in the materials. When tasks provide genuine opportunities for collaboration, MLLs are able to articulate their ideas about mathematics, engage in the process of developing arguments from evidence, and read, interpret, and evaluate information.

Another important aspect of defining success for MLLs in mathematics is the need to recognize and value cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Instructional materials that are culturally relevant and responsive to students’ backgrounds can foster a sense of belonging and validation, leading to increased engagement and motivation. 

Lastly, it’s critical to provide opportunities for MLLs to engage in collaborative problem-solving and real-world applications of mathematical concepts. Such activities can assist students in seeing the relevance and importance of math in their lives, while providing opportunities for language development. 

Reviewing your existing core mathematics curriculum and ensuring that it meets the standards needed to support the success of multilingual learners (MLLs) is a critical step in securing equitable access. 

While it’s hard to know where to start, the “Criteria for Review of Instructional Materials’ Success in Addressing MLL Linguistic and Instructional Needs” is a comprehensive choice valued for its ability to evaluate the quality and framework of instructional materials necessary for MLLs to thrive. 

It’s designed to be used by mathematics educators, curriculum leaders, and instructional materials developers to ensure that what is being utilized in the classroom is effective in supporting the learning and achievement of all students. 

Why Was This Tool Created?

Nationwide, educators are speaking out about the lack of accessibility and authenticity for MLLs in existing math instructional materials. There is an overwhelming need for more research-based, effective materials as presented in a recent study by the English Learners Success Forum (ELSF). 

In the study, 42% of educators surveyed cited issues with mathematics materials alone. The study also indicated that only about 20% of math teachers expressed that they could rely on their existing mathematics supports to help them assess MLLs. 

This criteria review was developed to address the needs of states and districts for a systematic method to assess mathematical instructional materials with regard to the needs of MLLs. 

The criteria is informed by the recommendations of the California English Language Development (ELD) Standards, California English Learner Roadmap, and the upcoming revised California Mathematics Framework

What Does It Do?

This review criteria provides a comprehensive analysis to ensure that the core mathematics curriculum purposefully integrates the linguistic and academic demands that are aligned with the needs of MLLs. This includes evaluating the coherence of math topics across grades.

Additionally, this review is the first curricula rubric of its kind that:

  • Explicitly connects the interdependence of math language and math content.
  • Prioritizes language development and mathematical practices in the teaching of mathematical concepts. 
  • Calls attention to and demands recognition of the multitude of assets that MLLs bring to the classroom.    
  • Recognizes peer collaboration in curricula as essential for MLLs. 

Upon evaluating your current core mathematics curriculum, you’ll be given key indicators to help you refine your instructional materials and teaching practices to value and build upon MLL strengths, meet their learning needs, and create affirming educational environments. It is recommended this tool is used on a curriculum that has already been evaluated for standards-aligned content.

How Does It Work?

The review serves as a guide for reviewers in identifying evidence that specific evaluation criteria are present in the core instructional mathematics materials being evaluated.

The criteria fall into five categories:

  • Simultaneous Content, Math Practices, and Language Development
  • Language Features of Mathematical Tasks
  • Language Supports
  • Leveraging Students’ Assets
  • Formative Assessment of Content, Math Practices, and Language

Each criterion includes indicators that help the reviewer zero in on evidence that the criterion is present. 

The rubric is accompanied by an evidence guide that provides the purpose of each indicator, as well as assisting with the evaluation of each. 

Ready to see it in action? Recently, the California Curriculum Collaborative released the California Math Multilingual Learner Reports. Together, Center for Education Market Dynamics (CEMD), EdReports, the English Learners Success Forum (ELSF) and Pivot Learning designed and oversaw this pilot review process to explore how existing, standards-aligned middle school math curriculum support MLLs. 

Who Should Use This Tool?

Those that evaluate instructional materials should be well-versed in the educational needs that define the academic trajectory path of MLLs. As district leaders and decision makers, it’s essential to use a tool that centralizes the needs of MLLs and the entire student body. 

As classrooms continue to become increasingly diverse, it’s critical that all educators hold the needs of MLLs at the forefront of decision-making. In our next blog, Assessing Your District’s Existing Mathematics Instructional Materials to Ensure Equitable Outcomes, we’ll take a closer look at what this tool means for both district leaders and classroom educators and outline some of the best methods for curriculum review and advocacy on both levels. 

Generate An Equitable Outcome

Ready to learn more? Watch the “Defining Success for Multilingual Learners in Math With High-Quality Support” webinar, where Jeff Livingston, Partner at EdSolutions and Co-Founder of The Center for Education Market Dynamics, leads a panel discussion with experts and educators focused on addressing the linguistic and instructional needs of multilingual learners in California.