SRI Blog

Closing the Rural Education Math Gap – A Program with Promising Results

student writing on chalkboardDeveloping strong foundational math skills has been a challenge for schools in rural areas, which serve almost 10 million U.S. students—more than 20 percent of the student population.

By engaging rigorous evaluation techniques, SRI International researchers will develop an understanding of the critical factors in closing the rural education math gap. Our research will help a program with six years of promising preliminary results to crystalize its approach and scale its strategies.

Students in rural areas are the majority of the public K-12 school population in about half the country’s school districts, and in many rural communities these students are behind. Rural students start high school with fewer math skills than their urban and suburban counterparts, they don’t study math for as long, and they ultimately earn fewer math credits.

That’s a problem on many fronts:

  1. Students without strong skills in foundational math won’t be ready for post-secondary education, for careers as skilled technicians, or for higher-level professional positions. For many, this leaves only low-skill, low-wage jobs or unemployment. 
  2. A recent report by Change the Equation shows that in the next decade most high paying jobs will require at least some background in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) areas. U.S. companies need these skilled workers.
  3. Rural communities suffer because an educated workforce is essential to attracting skilled jobs and helping to counteract the “brain drain” from those communities. 

Over six years, Virginia Advanced Study Strategies (VASS) has developed a solution that involves everyone in the education eco-system—kids, parents, families, teachers, schools and communities—that they believe enables rural students to pass Advanced Placement (AP) courses and enter STEM college courses and careers. 

SRI researchers will evaluate VASS’s Rural Math Excel Partnership (RMEP) to measure student outcomes and understand the critical program components that may enable rural students to succeed in foundational math courses and pursue more advanced STEM-related courses and careers.

Prestigious Investing in Innovation Fund Support

This program was one of 20 selected from over 650 submissions submitted to President Obama’s signature program to revolutionize education—the Investing in Innovation Funding. The $2.7 million award supports the launch of the RMEP, a collaboration between VASS and six educational agencies, in rural Virginia. Program components are designed to train teachers in using digital videos as homework assignments and in communicating to families and the community the value of mathematics to STEM-related careers.

Throughout the project, SRI’s independent evaluation team will collect data to answer the central questions at the heart of this project:

  1. Does it increase mathematics achievement?
  2. How does the shared responsibility among teachers, families and community members work to result in these outcomes?

SRI will not only use standard evaluation components such as surveys, focus group interviews and document reviews to analyze key project components, but will also feature state-of-the-art learning analytic techniques. We will collect digital resource usage logs to investigate the implementation of these learning technologies, which will enable VASS and other rural education providers to inform education practices. Lastly, the evaluation will use a quasi-experimental design to help answer questions about the effects of shared responsibility. We will compare student achievement in foundational mathematics courses (i.e., algebra I, geometry, or algebra II) between the group of students in the Virginia schools and a matched sample of students in a control group in schools from rural Virginia districts that are similar in important characteristics.

In SRI’s view, for the United States to succeed, innovation must happen everywhere – and we look forward to this exceptional opportunity to contribute to innovation in one of the places it is needed most–rural schools.

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Paul Snare

There are a great many adults including retires who could provide math and science teaching for youngsters but they are not utilized. Teacher unions and the desire by those in charge to formalize the experiences turn off many of those adults. Appreciation of those with experience and knowledge would help tap this excellent resource.


A little-known book written by a friend's mom: Math Power: How to Help Your Child Love Math, Even if You Don't emphasizes what I've thought for a while: math "conversation" needs to be part of everyday life. I've been asked to tutor 3-year olds to "get them to where your child is" but it just doesn't happen that way. Math needs to be infused into daily habits - to become part of the culture of developing number sense from early on.
How? It's more than a "headstart program" - it needs a dynamic leader to begin to change the way parents approach math education "oh, i HATE math!" should never be spoken around a child - what good would that do? make it approachable. Include it in conversation.
I can't even imagine life without math!