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How Assessment and Accountability Policies Cause Learning Gaps in Math to Persist Below the Surface....and What To Do About It
Many students are arriving into middle school with unfinished learning from prior years.
This is especially problematic in math because it is so cumulative.
For example, working with percentages can be challenging if you have never learned decimals.  
But education policies signal to teachers to focus exclusively on grade-level material.
Instructional time
is limited.
It can be challenging for teachers to address each student’s unfinished learning while also covering the grade-level material—all in a single school year.
As a result, unfinished learning accumulates and persists, hindering the ability for many students to become ready for college and career.
We call this The Iceberg Problem
Only a small portion of an iceberg’s mass is visible, while most of it remains hidden below the surface.
Modest declines in proficiency levels can mask a dramatic accumulation of unfinished learning.
We called our new report The Iceberg Problem because it captures deep flaws in today’s assessment and accountability policies. These policies send signals to teach a limited scope of content based on a student’s grade rather than ability. In addition, these polices measure just a small portion of students’ knowledge, while the real truth of what students are learning – or not learning – remains hidden.
The result is large achievement gaps persist, as countless students are deprived of the kind of instruction they need to thrive academically and achieve college and career readiness.
What to do about it
Measure learning growth
Use adaptive assessments that measure learning gains from where students are starting and which cross multiple grade levels.
Modify accountability systems
Consider measuring learning growth over multiple years, weighing key transition grades more heavily, applying adaptive assessments, and creating supplemental growth indicators.
Launch Math Innovation Zones
Create the space for innovative schools looking to implement instructional approaches that meet students where they are in service of ensuring college and career readiness.
Make available high quality instructional supports
Give teachers time, tools, and training to better address students’ unfinished learning.
Advance a future vision for assessment and accountability
Begin to shape a future policy landscape that is aligned to the principles of transparency, equity, and rigor as well as to instructional approaches tailored to each student’s unique strengths and needs.
Who we are
About New Classrooms
Innovation Partners
Founded in 2011, New Classrooms Innovation Partners is a national nonprofit on a mission to personalize education by redesigning how a classroom works – from the use of technology, time, and physical space to the instruction and content that engages each student. The founders of New Classrooms were the leaders of an initiative within NYC Public Schools called School of One, which TIME named as one of the Best Inventions of the Year. New Classrooms’ first learning model, Teach to One: Math, ensures each student is learning the right math lesson, at the right time, and in the right way that best meets their strengths and needs. It is used by thousands of students in schools nationwide. To learn more about New Classrooms, visit