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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Mathematics Intervention in the Primary Grades


What Are Effective Intervention Strategies for Students Struggling in Mathematics?

Rationale for the Study

  • Differentiated learning did not reach all struggling students.
  • Certain students had gaps in mathematical knowledge.
  • These gaps were not addressed by the grade level curriculum.


  • Seven hundred thirty-five students attend PS 41, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City.  The ethnicity of the population is as follows: 70% of the children are White, 14% are Hispanic, 6% are Black, and 10% are Asian and other ethnicity children.  Nine percent of the children are eligible for free lunch.
  •  In 2005-2006, ninety-five percent of all students in the tested grades met or exceeded performance standards on the statewide test.
  •  Fifteen students, in the tested grades, did not meet standards.  In addition to these fifteen students, students who received a low three on the test often struggled with grade level material in the classroom.  During my two years research I identified, as well, two students each year who scored a mid-level three on the test but were considered at risk for succeeding in mathematics based on teacher assessments.

Review of Literature
Student Learning

  • Piaget – Theory of children’s intellectual development, which suggests that certain fundamental tasks need to be mastered before more complex ideas can be integrated into an individual’s intellectual framework. (1964).
  • Fosnot and Dolk – Outlined a learning landscape, which traces the development of children’s’ mathematical ideas (2001).
  • Marie Clay – Created the Reading Recovery Program, a successful intervention program for reading, which may provide a model for math intervention (1972).

Professional Development
It is well documented that there is a correlation between teacher learning and student learning in the area of mathematics  (Cohen and Hill, 1998; Stigler and Hiebert, 1999; Hill and Ball, 2004).  High quality professional development:

  • Helps teachers understand content as well as standards and assessments:
  • Is linked to work students are expected to do:
  • Is continuous (Cohen and Hill, 1998).


  • Early in the year I reviewed the results from the previous year’s third grade standardized mathematics test to identify which students were struggling in mathematics.
  •  It should be noted that in 2006 the City administered the standardized test and in 2007 they were administered by the State.  Although they were different tests, I found that both correlated well with classroom performance and were a good base indicator for identifying students struggling in mathematics.
  •  However, both years I had students who were determined to be proficient in terms of the standardized tests but performed poorly on class assessments and thus were also included in the study.

Intervention Provided to Struggling Students

  • Students attended Extended Day program four mornings each week.
  • Instruction did not shadow daily curriculum.
  • Students were assessed based on development of their mathematical ideas.
  • Instruction was aimed at recovering math concepts not mastered at earlier stages.
  • Instruction was scaffolded to facilitate grade level understanding.


  • Students identified as struggling were at different points on the learning landscape.
  • Struggling students had gaps in mathematical knowledge, which differentiated instruction could not address.
  • 13 students benefited from short term, small group instruction separate from the daily curriculum.
  • 7 students continued to struggle through out the year with grade level material and would have been better served by a different form of intervention.

Policy Recommendations
Extended Day Curriculum

  • Develop a curriculum separate from the daily grade level curriculum.
  • Students should be assessed in terms of the development of mathematical ideas.
  • Instruction based on assessment, which then scaffolds learning to grade level material.
  • A strong math teacher at each grade level can be paid per session to design the curriculum.

Math Recovery Program

  • Identify students in second grade who are a year behind in math.  As part of a Tier 3 intervention, provide access to a Math Recovery Program.
  • Students meet with a teacher 3 to 5 times a week on a 1 to 1 basis for 12-14 weeks.
  • Teachers who are strong in mathematics can be hired part time for this position.  Retired teachers and teachers on maternity leave are good candidates for this position.

Professional Development for Teachers

  • Provide high quality professional development with characteristics defined by researchers such as Hill and Ball.
  • Professional development should show a correlation between teacher learning and student achievement.


Frances Schuchman

Research Focus:
Curriculum Implementation

TNLI Affiliate:
New York City

PS 41, The Greenwich Village School

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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