PED: ‘Math to Me’ Initiative Will Emphasize Student Math Identity


The Public Education Department will emphasize statewide math proficiency in the 2022-23 school year with a specific goal of helping all New Mexico students see themselves as mathematicians, Secretary Kurt Steinhaus announced today.

The department will launch the Math Is Me theme alongside a continuing focus on literacy established in the current school year, which Steinhaus named New Mexico’s Year of Literacy.

“The Year of Literacy initiative invited New Mexicans of every age to celebrate literacy as a foundational academic skill and to practice it by reading every day,” Steinhaus said. “That focus will continue, but beginning in August, we’ll also be emphasizing math skills, which are just as critical to the academic success of our students and our state.”

Math Is Me developed from emerging research about the importance of how students perceive their own ability to do math. The goal is to break down stubborn myths that girls and some racial minorities are not good at math while boys and other racial minorities are – myths that strongly influence academic performance and contribute to gender and racial disparities in assessments of math proficiency.

“We want every student to have a positive math identity – a belief that they are doers of and learners of math,” Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment said. “A positive math identity is foundational to math learning and influences important life and career decisions. We are going to make sure every child in New Mexico knows they are mathematicians.”

“A great proportion of the population decides ‘math is not for me,’ and they carry that sentiment into adulthood,” said Jacqueline Costales, the department’s director of Curriculum and Instruction. “So kids come to school with that fear from their parents, and they continue that fear and that belief that math is almost impossible for them to do.”

“To a certain extent, this is a marketing problem,” said Seana Flanagan, who oversees the PED’s role in teacher preparation. “How are we marketing math to kids? We have to attract people to teaching who have a passion for math and can convey that and get kids excited about it.”

Simone Vann, who taught high school math for years before joining the Public Education Department’s Black Education Act team, said students need a strong math identity before getting to Algebra 2.

“Algebra 2 is one of the most feared courses in high school, and having that math identity before they get there is so important. Once they realize they can do math, it can completely change their trajectory,” Vann said.

Vann remembers a Black student who was assigned to her Algebra 2 class even though he hadn’t taken geometry yet.

“We realized he was misplaced, but he pleaded to stay in my class because he’d never had a Black math teacher, and he thought I’d be able to help him,” Vann said. “He passed and learned to love math by having a teacher who looked like him.”

Only 21% of New Mexico students in grades 3-11 were proficient in math, and the figures were significantly lower for Black students (14%) and Native American students (11%), according to the PED’s most recent statewide testing data. 

Math Is Me builds on other Public Education Department initiatives launched during this administration to improve math proficiency.

“Everything we’ve done in the last two or three years has really been in response to New Mexico’s below-average math proficiency. We recognized our students don’t have the math skills they need, and we’re fixing that,” said Shafiq Chaudhary, acting director of the PED’s Math and Science Bureau.

That work includes:

  • In June 2022, PED will launch a Focus on Algebra professional learning series to strengthen instructional practices emphasizing algebraic thinking and algebra concepts. This free, two-year initiative is open to all grade 6–9 school teams. 
  • In January 2022, PED launched the Fostering Positive Math Identities professional learning series for educators aimed at supporting secondary educators and students with enhancing positive math identities. This free series is scheduled to continue in 2022-23.
  • In July 2021, PED released the New Mexico Math Framework, providing clear guidance to school or district leaders on the critical components to build, implement and strengthen math instruction in New Mexico and to reduce inequities in math learning.
  • In February 2021, PED launched the Early Numeracy Initiative, which offered teachers in early grades free professional development to better teach math to young children. The pandemic slowed participation, but to date, 72 elementary educators and administrators in 15 districts or state-chartered schools have completed the workshop series. The series is scheduled to continue in 2022-23.
  • In September 2020, PED won approval to offer an elementary math endorsement on a teacher’s license to indicate additional competence in elementary math pedagogy. Teachers with this endorsement are expected to become mentors to other teachers in their schools. So far, PED has issued 23 endorsements. 
  • In August 2020, PED released the New Mexico Instructional Scope for Math, a tool written by New Mexico educators to help classroom teachers scaffold lessons to be sure students learn priority standards first. Based on public feedback, a revised version was released in summer 2021.