Effective Programs for Elementary Mathematics: A Best Evidence Synthesis

What mathematics programs have been proven to help elementary students to succeed? To find out, this review summarizes evidence on three types of programs designed to improve the mathematics achievement of students in grades K-6:

  • Mathematics Curricula (MC), such as Everyday Mathematics, Saxon Math, and other standard and alternative textbooks.
  • Computer assisted instruction (CAI), such as Jostens/Compass Learning and Success Maker.
  • Instructional process programs (IP), such as cooperative learning, classroom management programs, and other approaches primarily intended to change teachers’ instructional strategies rather than curriculum or textbooks.

Key Findings

Overall, 87 studies met the inclusion criterion, of which 36 used random assignment to treatments. These included 13 studies of mathematics curricula (2 randomized), 38 studies of CAI (15 randomized), and 36 studies of instructional process programs (20 randomized).

  • Mathematics Curricula (MC). The review found limited evidence that it matters which textbook is used, at least for student outcomes on standardized tests. Studies of curricula supported by the National Science Foundation, such as Everyday Mathematics and Math Trailblazers, found small differences in math achievement in comparison to control groups. Similarly, Saxon Math and traditional math texts had little evidence of effectiveness. Median effect size across 13 studies: +0.10.
  • Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI). Most studies of CAI find positive achievement outcomes. However, the outcomes are very mixed, and the highest-quality studies find few positive effects. Also, most qualifying studies evaluated programs that are no longer available; there are few studies of current versions of CAI. Median effect size across 38 studies: +0.19.
  • Instructional Process Strategies (IP). The highest-quality studies and strongest positive effects were found for instructional process programs such as cooperative learning, classroom management and motivation programs, and small-group tutoring programs. Median effect size across 36 studies: +0.33.


Program Ratings

Listed below are currently available programs, grouped by strength of effectiveness. Within each group, programs are listed alphabetically. The type for each program corresponds to the categories above (e.g., IP = Instructional Process Strategies)


The Best Evidence Encyclopedia is a free web site created by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education’s Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education (CDDRE) under funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. 1

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