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National Center
for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science (NCISLA)



Algebraic Reasoning in the Elementary Grades

Classroom Assessment as the Basis for Teacher Change (CATCH)

Statistics in the Middle Grades

Modeling for Understanding in Science Education (MUSE)

Cross-site Analyses of District and School Organizational Contexts

Task Force Synthesizing Research in Mathematics, Science, and Diversity

Communication Program



Working with teachers and schools, Center researchers have been conducting long-term, in-class studies to identify the many ways K-12 students learn mathematics and science ideas with understanding and the teacher professional development programs that support such learning.

In diverse settings, researchers have studied:

  • student reasoning
  • assessment strategies
  • teacher practices
  • professional development models
  • school features that support learning and achievement

Across grades K-12, researchers have focused on ways that students investigate, model, discuss, and understand increasingly sophisticated mathematics and science concepts, including those embedded in algebra, geometry, the physics of motion, calculus, statistics, genetics, evolution, astronomy, and other topics.

Teacher professional development has been a focus of all Center projects. Teachers and researchers devise strategies that enable teachers to continually mature in their craft. Researchers also have been evaluating the impact of long-term professional development on teachers' practice, emerging professional communities, and student learning. One critical finding from this work is that teachers require substantive, long-term professional development about both student thinking and subject matter.

Research briefs, newsletters, and several new publications provide more detail about the research briefly described below.

Algebraic Reasoning in the Elementary Grades (Grades K-5)

Building on previous NCISLA research, two studies involving diverse student populations in California, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin are examining (a) children's mathematical and algebraic reasoning and (b) teachers' professional development. The complementary studies are yielding significant advances in students' mathematics learning and professional development programs that strengthen teachers' learning of mathematics content; teachers' professional communities; teachers' understanding of students' mathematical thinking; and teachers' abilities to leverage mathematics curricula and students' thinking to build elementary students' algebraic reasoning.

Lead Researchers:

Classroom Assessment as the Basis for Teacher Change (CATCH) (Grades 5-8)

This NCISLA project was based on previous NCISLA research, which showed that formative assessment can play a significant role in pedagogy that promotes learning with understanding. Although less common than traditional forms of assessment, such as grades and standardized tests, classroom formative assessment is useful in supporting day-to-day instruction and the critical processes of instructional decision making and feedback.

web siteA resource for teachers involved in the CATCH research and professional development project, the CATCH website is based at -- and maintained by staff of -- the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands.

Lead Researchers:

Statistics in the Middle Grades (Grades 6-8)

This NCISLA project built on five years of middle-school classroom design experiments, in which the collaborating researchers and teachers tested and revised instructional sequences and computer minitools for students to learn statistical data analysis. Using the instructional resources built to coincide with students' mathematical learning trajectories, the researchers engaged teachers in investigations of students' learning of statistics and sought to determine if the instructional resources and minitools can serve as a primary support for teachers' generative professional development. Research findings positively reflect students' capacities to engage in challenging statistical reasoning in the middle grades.

Lead Researchers:

Modeling for Understanding in Science Education (Grades 9-12)

This NCISLA project, Modeling for Understanding in Science Education (MUSE), has been active for more than 10 years in a Wisconsin high school. The project is based on the premise that students' learning of science should include gaining a facility with conceptual knowledge, or "subject matter," and understanding the ways that scientific knowledge is generated and justified. The NCISLA researchers have found that high school students can learn science with understanding through experiences in scientific inquiry, modeling, and reasoned argumentation(justification). Extensive materials developed for instruction in evolutionary biology and astronomy - using the model-based approach - are posted on the MUSE website ( as a resource for middle and high school science teachers nationwide.

Lead Researchers:

Cross-Site Analyses of District and School Organizational Contexts (Grades K-12)

This research project has cut across all NCISLA project sites by studying and identifying the key challenges faced by K-12 schools (and districts) seeking to support teachers' growth in content knowledge, professional practice, and teaching for understanding. The objective is to inform practitioners and policymakers about what is necessary at the school and district level - in terms of support, resources, and restructuring - to adequately support teachers' professional development and students learning mathematics and science with understanding.

Lead Researcher:

Task Force Synthesizing Research in Mathematics, Science & Diversity (Grades K-12)

Together, the NCISLA and the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence (CREDE) have conved expert panels to synthesize the current status and findings of education research in K-12 mathematics, science, and diverse students' learning. Research regarding diverse students' (e.g., students who may be marginalized due to cultural, linguistic and economic factors) and their mathematics and science learning has not been summarized in any meaningful way to date. The expert panels convened by the two OERI-funded research centers have taken on this task and will publish two books discussing the "state of the research" for (1) diverse students learning science, and (2) diverse students learning mathematics, and outline next steps for policy, teacher training, professional development, classroom practice, and research.

Task Force Leaders:

Communication Program

The NCISLA has conducted a strategic communication program to provide audience members (policymakers, teachers, and education leaders) information about research findings and implications for K-12 policy and practice. The program is based on communication theory and initial audience research. Through print and multimedia products and researchers' networking, publications, and professional development activities, the Center has aimed to provide relevant information, examples, and insights to inform mathematics and science reform. Audience-targeted products illustrate (a) ways that student achievement can be influenced through innovative instruction, (b) mathematics and science content worth studying, (c) the utility of incorporating mathematical and scientific modeling generalization and justficiation in instruction, (d) useful assessment strategies, and (e) approaches to sustained teacher professional development.

Program Director: