Methods of instructional improvement in algebra

Christopher R. Rakes, Jeffrey C. Valentine, Maggie B. McGatha and Robert N. Ronau have written a very interesting article where they provide a systematic review of research regarding improvement strategies in algebra instruction. Their article is entitled Methods of Instructional Improvement in Algebra: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, and it was published in the latest issue of AERA journal Review of Educational Research. Algebra, they claim, is considered to be “the backbone of secondary mathematics education in the United States” (p. 372), but quite a low proportion of students pass their Algebra II exam. The National Mathematics Advisory Panel were therefore concerned that traditional algebra instruction was not as effective as it should be. In their article, Rakes and colleagues discuss what algebra is, what the main challenges for algebra instruction are, and they present a systematic review of literature based on the following questions:

  • What methods for improving algebra instruction have been studied?
  • How effective have these methods been at improving student achievement scores?
  • Which characteristics of teaching interventions in algebra are the most important for determining the effectiveness of the intervention on student achievement?

Their impressive review consisted of 82 studies that were selected from a time span of 40 years. The results of their study “indicate that a wide variety of reforms effectively improve student achievement in algebra. The degree to which these efforts focus on the development of conceptual understanding also influences the magnitude of effects” (p. 391). If you are interested in algebra instruction, you should definitely take the time to read this interesting 30 page article!

Here is the abstract of their article:

This systematic review of algebra instructional improvement strategies identified 82 relevant studies with 109 independent effect sizes representing a sample of 22,424 students. Five categories of improvement strategies emerged: technology curricula, nontechnology curricula, instructional strategies, manipulatives, and technology tools. All five of these strategies yielded positive, statistically significant results. Furthermore, the learning focus of these strategies moderated their effects on student achievement. Interventions focusing on the development of conceptual understanding produced an average effect size almost double that of interventions focusing on procedural understanding.


Rakes, C.R., Valentine, J.C., McGatha, M.B., & Ronau, R.N. (2010). Methods of Instructional Improvement in Algebra – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 80(3), 372-400.