The Language of Content

Articles from the Speak Agent team that provide classroom resources, implementation strategies, research-based perspectives, and updates regarding our Content+LanguageSM platform.

What Can We Do About Declining Math Scores?

June 22, 2023 | Team Speak Agent |

The latest math scores from the NAEP Long-Term Trends assessment are a call to action for us all. We write this as a team of educators and parents who feel that this news demands a response. This article will (1) explore the implications of the NAEP findings and (2) discuss mitigation strategies, all of which are vendor-agnostic.

The Findings and Their Implications

NAEP-LTT math chart

The NAEP LTT is a 45-minute test given to 13-year-olds across the USA. Nationally, scores dropped by more than 3%, the largest drop ever recorded.

IMPLICATION #1: Our education system is not recovering from the pandemic. There are so many stresses on the system that it is damaging our ability to teach and students' ability to learn. Recovery is not going to happen quickly and it's not going to happen on its own. Collectively, educators and administrators need to change the system — at least the parts we can change — in order to meet this challenge.


There was already a significant gap in scores among Black, Hispanic, and White students. The pandemic has widened that gap. For example: The drop in scores for Black students was more than double the drop for White students.

IMPLICATION #2: Equity in education is an even more urgent challenge than it was before the pandemic. It is critical to adopt strategies that not only support all learners, but also specifically meet the needs of historically marginalized learners.

Response Strategies

Find ways to reduce daily headaches for teachers

It's obvious that teacher burnout and exiting from the calling of education are factors in the sliding math scores. There are many ways to boost teacher retention, none of them easy. What we see, unfortunately, is that many of the tactics used are temporary measures. To make for durable change, we have to actually change a teacher's job description. We have to find the things that drive teachers crazy day in and day out and tackle those.

Here are a few items high on our list of no-no's to avoid:

  • Mandates for teachers to take on more tasks without taking away any existing tasks.
  • Mandates for teachers to do things they are not trained or supported to do.
  • Asking teachers to measure things without the tools to effectively do so.
  • Layering on new tools that require extra work to manage on top of existing classroom management.
  • Asking teachers to use tools or resources that do not support collaboration among teachers and support staff.
  • Leaving it to teachers to address any behavioral and emotional lag due to the pandemic. Many students are stuck in an emotional state that does not correspond with their age. This has a direct impact on daily instruction and stress levels.
  • Not giving teachers opportunities to voice their priorities and solutions to instructional inequities.

Integrate learning supports and scaffolds with Tier 1 instruction

The data show that learning supports and scaffolds can benefit all learners, not just special populations. We urge you to think about implementing supports and scaffolds as part of universal design, rather than as accommodations for specific sub-groups. Every student can benefit from research-based strategies such as visual aids, kinesthetic learning, writing scaffolds, narration options, making real-world connections, etc.

Integrate content and language for all learners

six-modes-diagram-normal_720It has long been established that multilingual learners learn best when able to draw connections between academic language and content knowledge, and when these are taught together. But did you know that all learners benefit from timely content-language integration? (See evidence here >)

We've identified the 425 most critical middle school math concepts and found that mastering each concept requires several of the six communication modes: listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and representing. Each of the six modes is critical to math modeling, reasoning, and communication.

Ask the hard questions of your edtech providers

Education technology is often a low-cost, highly scalable way to address instructional needs. But not all of the research done by edtech providers is equal. For example: Many of the research claims made by edtech providers are based on Pre/Post tests. These studies lack a control group, so you cannot know whether the gains claimed were a result of the intervention or another factor. In a controlled study, on the other hand, you compare a treatment group against a control group and look at the differences between the two groups. It also matters how similar these two groups are — otherwise it may not be an apples-to-apples comparison.

Other things to look out for in research claims:

  • Who conducted the study? Was it an unbiased third party with no affiliation with the provider?
  • What was used to measure results? Was it a third-party assessment that is unaffiliated with the provider, or was it the provider's own test?
  • How many students were involved in the study? Was it a handful of classrooms, or were the results spread across hundreds or thousands of classrooms?

It is incumbent upon administrators to ask "What kind of research did you do?" and not to accept claims at face value.


Take advantage of ESSER to address equity

The American Rescue Plan of 2021 allocates a minimum of 20% of district ESSER funds for the implementation of evidence-based interventions that address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups (based on race/ethnicity, income, disabilities, gender, and status as EL, migrant, homeless, or in foster care). The deadline to allocate these funds was extended to Sept. 30, 2024 and all funds must be 100% spent down by Jan. 28, 2025.

Content & language integration resources

A Framework for Foundational Literacy Skills Instruction for English Learners
Author: Council of Great City Schools
This resource is helpful for emerging multilingual learners of all ages.

WIDA English Language Development Standards Framework, 2020 Edition
Author: WIDA
This resource is helpful not only for multilingual learners of all levels, but also provides standards for content and language integration in math and science.

Speak Agent and the WIDA ELD Standards
Author: Speak Agent
A brief summary of the WIDA standards and how Speak Agent supports them.

Research evaluation resources

The Research Continuum
Author: NewSchools Venture Fund
This resource helps you differentiate from among different levels of research done by edtech providers.

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Team Speak Agent

Written by Team Speak Agent

Speak Agent is a team of educators, parents, and multilingual learners who believe that the language of content is key to unlocking opportunities for historically marginalized learners.