Public Release: 

Algebra for all-- Not with today's textbooks, says AAAS

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Washington, D.C.--The majority of textbooks used for algebra‹considered the gateway to higher mathematics‹have some potential to help students learn, but they also have serious weaknesses, according to a rigorous academic analysis by Project 2061, the long-term mathematics and science education reform initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Seven of the 12 textbooks evaluated by Project 2061 were considered adequate, however not one was rated highly. Five textbooks, including three that are widely used in American classrooms, were rated so inadequate that they lack potential for student learning.

"We need top-quality textbooks‹not books that are barely acceptable‹if we are to help every child understand algebra and eventually become competent in math and science," stated George Nelson, director of Project 2061. Many school districts now require algebra of all students.

"We do see solid improvement in some of the newer materials, but each book had major shortcomings," stated Nelson. "Unfortunately, the areas where most books are the weakest are those that are most critical in helping all students achieve, such as building on the knowledge that students may already have and dealing with their misconceptions."

Gerald Kulm, who directed the Project 2061 evaluation, urged school districts to identify their textbook's specific strengths and weaknesses and provide a variety of resources for teachers to compensate where their textbook is lacking. "Teachers also need high-quality professional development that is targeted specifically to the classroom use of their textbook," Kulm said.

State leaders applauded the rigorous textbook evaluation. Maine Governor Angus King noted that, "The State of Maine Learning Results, Maine's standards, coupled with an independent analysis such as this, give our schools the tools to develop educational programs that empower our students to compete in a global economy."

The detailed evaluation will be of great benefit to states in reviewing their entire algebra program, according to Jacqueline Mitchell, president of the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics. Mitchell stated, "Millions are spent each year on textbooks, yet state officials and local districts don't have the time or resources to adequately analyze their textbooks. This academic evaluation by a well-respected scientific organization is of enormous value."

This evaluation is the first to use Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, the recently-revised guidelines for what students should learn released earlier this month by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). The standards, available to the reviewers in draft form, are closely aligned with the learning goals of Project 2061's landmark Benchmarks for Science Literacy.

Highlights of evaluation findings:

  • All of the textbooks present algebra using a variety of contexts and give students appropriate firsthand experiences with the concepts and skills.

    Most of the textbooks do an acceptable job of developing student ideas about algebra through representing ideas, demonstrating content, and providing appropriate practice.

  • No textbook does a satisfactory job of providing assessments to help teachers make instructional decisions based specifically on what their students have‹or have not‹learned.

  • No textbook does a satisfactory job of building on students' existing ideas about algebra or helping them overcome their misconceptions or missing prerequisite knowledge.

The books were reviewed by teams of professional educators, including classroom teachers and university researchers with expertise in mathematics content and effective teaching and learning strategies. They evaluated each book's potential for teaching critical algebraic concepts, such as representing variable quantities and modeling with functions, and analyzed how well the content is developed through teaching strategies that are consistent with research on how students learn. These include strategies that engage students, help students identify a sense of purpose, build on student ideas, develop mathematical ideas, promote student thinking, and assess student progress.

Several of the books were chosen for evaluation because they are "best sellers" in today's classrooms. Others were selected because their development was funded in part by the National Science Foundation or because they were unique in their use of technology and applications.

"Considering the growing need to make algebra understandable to all students, we hope that everyone involved in developing and using textbooks will find this work helpful," said evaluation director Gerald Kulm. For school systems considering algebra texts, Project 2061 made the following recommendations:

  • Choose textbooks using Project 2061's evaluation criteria; consider those that the Project has already rated as having potential to help all students learn algebra.
  • Use the Project 2061 evaluations to identify your textbook's strengths and weaknesses.

  • Draw on a variety of resources to compensate for your textbook's weak areas.

  • Provide your teachers with high-quality professional development that is targeted to understanding the mathematics content, the textbook that is being used, and the instruction that is necessary to promote student learning.

  • Encourage your district to adopt high-quality middle grades programs that build early algebra understandings and prerequisites (see Project 2061's middle grades mathematics textbook evaluation).

A summary of the algebra textbook evaluations will be posted on the Project 2061 web site at . Previous evaluations, as well as information for educators and parents, are also available on the web site.

Project 2061 provides professional development for teachers, designed to help them translate national science and math standards into classroom activities. "Standards-based teacher training would be particularly helpful to algebra teachers seeking to find and use activities that supplement the texts' weak spots," said Nelson.

Project 2061 began its series of textbook evaluations with an analysis of middle-grades mathematics texts, released in January 1999. Currently used as a resource for textbook adoption committees around the country, that evaluation rated several newer mathematics textbooks as excellent teaching tools, but a number of widely used texts as unsatisfactory. Details and supporting documentation for that study are now available in print and CD-ROM format.

Project 2061's September 1999 in-depth study of middle-grades science books revealed shortcomings in all popular textbooks and has opened up new dialogues with educators and textbook publishers. A summary is available at . A review of high school biology texts will be released later this year.

The evaluation procedure was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation. The Carnegie Corporation of New York provided funding for the algebra textbook evaluation.


Since 1985, Project 2061 has worked to reform science education in grades K-12 so that all high-school graduates are science literate--that is, prepared to live interesting, responsible and productive lives in a world increasingly shaped by science and technology. The initiative has developed a coherent set of tools to support efforts to translate the established learning goals into more effective curriculum materials, instruction, and assessment.


Click here for relevant charts that accompany this release.

Excellent Textbooks

  • None

Textbooks with the Potential for Helping Students Learn Algebra

  • Concepts in Algebra, Everyday Learning Corporation, 1999
  • Contemporary Mathematics in Context (CORE-Plus), Everyday Learning Corporation, 1998
  • Focus on Algebra, Addison Wesley Longman, 1998
  • Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP), Key Curriculum Press, 1997-1999
  • MATH Connections, It's About Time, Inc., 1998
  • Mathematics: Modeling Our World (COMAP/ARISE), South-Western Educational Publishing, 1998
  • UCSMP Algebra, Scott, Foresman and Company, 1998

Textbooks with Little Potential for Helping Students Learn Algebra

  • Algebra 1: Explorations and Applications, McDougal Littell, 1998
  • Algebra 1: Integration, Applications, Connections, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 1998
  • Algebra: Tools for a Changing World, Prentice Hall, 1998
  • CORD Algebra 1, South-Western Educational Publishing, 1998
  • Integrated Mathematics: A Modeling Approach Using Technology (SIMMS), Simon & Schuster Custom Publishing, 1996-1998

(All books are listed in alphabetical order.)

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