Online maths homework increases student achievement

A study published in the journal AERA Open has found that a web-based mathematics homework intervention called ASSISTments made a positive impact on students’ maths achievement at the end of the school year.

Jeremy Roschelle and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial with 2,850 Grade 7 (Year 8) maths students across 43 schools in the US state of Maine, which since 2002 has provided every student in Grade 7 with a laptop. Schools in the intervention and control groups were matched in terms of demographics and socioeconomic status.

The ASSISTments intervention provided students with immediate personalised feedback as they worked on their homework, and when students struggled they were given the opportunity to work on supplementary problems sets. The intervention also enabled formative assessment practices for teachers, such as adapting their discussions of homework to fit students’ needs.

In schools where students and their teachers used the intervention, students achieved higher standardised maths test scores (effect size = + 0.18) compared with students in the control schools. Students with low prior maths achievement, in particular, benefited the most.

Source: Online mathematics homework increases student achievement (2016) AERA Open

What works in secondary maths?

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released new intervention reports on two core mathematics curricula that seek to improve maths achievement in the secondary grades: The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project and Saxon Math.

The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) uses a student-centred approach to learning, incorporating problem solving, real-world applications, and the use of technology. The WWC identified two studies of UCSMP Algebra and one study of multiple UCSMP courses that fell within the scope of the WWC’s secondary maths topic area and met WWC research standards. According to the research, UCSMP Algebra I has potentially positive effects on both general maths achievement and algebra for secondary students. In addition, the cumulative effect of multiple UCSMP courses was found to have potentially positive effects on general maths achievement for these students. The full report can be found here.

Saxon Math is designed for students in grades K–12 (age 5–18) and uses an incremental structure that distributes content throughout the year. The WWC identified two studies of Saxon Algebra I that fell within the scope of the WWC’s secondary maths topic area and met WWC research standards. According to the research, Saxon Algebra I has no discernible effects on algebra achievement for secondary students. The full report can be found here.

Source: University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) and Saxon Math (2016), What Works Clearinghouse.

Predicting success in STEM

The Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest has conducted a literature review to determine what predictors from primary school of postsecondary STEM success have been identified in peer-reviewed studies, with a focus on predictors for Hispanic students.

The review defined postsecondary STEM success as enrollment in, persistence in, and completion of postsecondary STEM majors or degrees. Twenty-three relevant studies were identified, but only four examined factors predictive of success specifically for Hispanic students.
Key findings from the review included:

  • The number of high school maths and science courses taken and the level of those courses predict postsecondary STEM success for all student subgroups, but racial/ethnic minority students were less likely than White students to take the highest level maths and science courses.
  • Interest or confidence in STEM showed statistically significant predictive relationships with students’ postsecondary STEM success, and the relationships were evident as early as middle school. Racial/ethnic minority and White students had similar interest and confidence in STEM.
  • Statistically significant high school predictors of postsecondary STEM success included schools’ academic rigour, percentage of students enrolled in college preparatory programmes, students’ satisfaction with their teachers, and levels of parent participation.

Source: A Review of the Literature to Identify Leading Indicators Related to Hispanic STEM Postsecondary Educational Outcomes (2016), Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.

Teachers who improve non-cognitive skills not always top of the class

A new working paper from Mathematica Policy Research looks at the role that teachers play in developing non-cognitive skills, the non-tested academic behaviours and mindsets that contribute to children’s long-term success. These behaviours and mindsets include emotional stability, motivation, persistence, and self-control.

Data came from 310 teachers in four US districts who had agreed to have their classes videotaped, complete a teacher questionnaire, and help collect a set of pupil outcomes. The study focused on Grade 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) maths classes, although all of the teachers involved were generalists.

The authors examined both “teacher effects” (the teacher themselves) and “teaching effects” (classroom practices) on a range of maths test scores and non-tested outcomes, specifically behaviour in class, happiness in class, and self-efficacy in maths.

They found that individual teachers have large effects on pupils’ self-reported behaviour in class, self-efficacy in maths, and happiness in class that are similar in magnitude to effects on test scores. However, teachers who are effective at improving these outcomes often are not the same as those who raise maths test scores.

The paper concludes that efforts to improve the quality of the teacher workforce should include teachers’ abilities to promote academic behaviours and mindsets.

Source: Teacher and teaching effects on students’ academic behaviors and mindsets (2015), Mathematica.