Early maths knowledge among low-income children linked to later achievement

A longitudinal study published in Child Development evaluates an early maths trajectories model for 517 low-income US children from ages 4- to 11-years-old to determine whether children’s maths skills at 4- and 5-years-old predicted their maths achievement at age 11.

Children were tested on six maths skills (patterning, counting objects, comparing quantities, understanding written numbers, calculating and understanding shapes) during their last year of pre-school and near the end of the first grade (Year 2). At the end of the fifth grade (Year 6), they were tested on a range of maths knowledge, including knowledge about numbers, algebra, and geometry.

Bethany Rittle‐Johnson and colleagues found that children’s skills in patterning, comparing quantities and counting objects in pre-school were strong predictors of their maths achievement at age 11. By the end of the first grade (Year2), understanding written numbers and calculating were the strongest predictors of later maths knowledge. Patterning skills remained a predictor, however, shape knowledge was never a unique predictor of later maths achievement.

These results suggest that children’s maths knowledge in pre-school is related to their later achievement; however, not all early achievement is a useful predictor of future performance.

Source: Early math trajectories: low-income children’s mathematics knowledge from ages 4 to 11 (2016) Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12662

Is mathematics education in England working for everyone?

A new report published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) analyses data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to look at the impact of disadvantage on children’s performance in England.

Focusing on children’s performance in maths, researchers Rebecca Wheater and colleagues find that:

  • The gap between the most and least disadvantaged is equivalent to over three years’ of schooling. This is close to the OECD average.
  • The impact of socio-economic background on maths performance in England can be seen from the most to least disadvantaged. Its effects are even greater when comparing differences in achievement between children of high and average socio-economic background than between children of average and low socio-economic background.
  • Disadvantaged children who perform better than average, given their socio-economic background, tend to be born in the autumn, are more confident in their abilities and are less likely to play truant.
  • The patterns of performance in England have changed little over the years and examination of other countries’ data suggests that they too have found it very difficult to reduce the impact of socio-economic background on performance.
  • Many factors other than socio-economic background also affect performance such as student characteristics and the impact of individual schools. These other factors are more important to student performance in England than in other countries.

Source: Is mathematics education in England working for everyone? NFER analysis of the PISA performance of disadvantaged pupils (2016) National Foundation for Educational Research

Positive progress for maths, but not reading, for a thinking-skills intervention

The Education Endowment Foundation evaluated the impact of the ReflectED programme using a randomised controlled trial involving 1,858 pupils across 30 schools in five areas throughout England over the academic year 2014/15. The evaluation examined the impact on the maths and reading achievement of Year 5 pupils, and also their attitudes toward reading and maths.

The ReflectED programme was developed by Rosendale Primary School to improve pupils’ metacognition — their ability to think about and manage their own learning. This includes the skills of setting and monitoring goals, assessing progress, and identifying personal strengths and challenges.

Year 5 pupils who took part in the trial made an average of four months’ additional progress in maths (ES = +0.30) compared to those in the control groups. The evaluators also found evidence that pupils in the programme developed a more positive attitude toward maths. However, in reading they made two fewer months’ progress than the control group (ES = -0.16) and developed a slightly less positive attitude toward the subject.

The evaluation also found that most schools were already teaching metacognitive and reflective skills similar to those taught in the ReflectED programme, which are likely to have continued in the control group classes. This might have limited the impact that ReflectED had on teachers’ practice and pupils’ outcomes.

Source: ReflectED: Evaluation report and executive summary (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

Have gender gaps in maths closed?

A study, published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, explored the early development of gender gaps in mathematics achievement, including when gaps first appear, where in the distribution they develop, and whether these gaps have changed over the years.

Cimpian and colleagues compared two cohorts in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: the kindergarten (Year 1) classes of 1998-1999 (N = 21,399) and 2010-2011 (N = 18,170). They observed that the gender gap at the top of the distribution (among the highest achievers in maths) begins in early elementary school (Year 2) and continues to get worse, and has not improved over the last decade. In both the 1998-1999 and 2010-2011 cohorts, girls represented less than one-third of students above the 99th percentile as early as the spring of kindergarten. By Grade 3 (Year 4) for the 1998-1999 cohort and Grade 2 (Year 3) for the 2010-2011 cohort, girls made up only one-fifth of those above the 99th percentile.

In addition to maths achievement, students’ learning behaviours and teacher expectations were examined, as these could be two potential contributors to the gender gaps. When boys and girls behaved and performed similarly, teachers in both cohorts underrated the maths skills of girls as early as Grade 1 (Year 2). In other words, in mathematics, for teachers to rate girls equally with boys, girls must work harder and behave better than the boys.

Source: Have gender gaps in math closed? Achievement, teacher perceptions, and learning behaviors across two ECLS-K cohorts (2016), AERA Open

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.