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.

What works for teaching algebra?

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) in the US has released a new practice guide: Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and High School Students.

Developed for teachers, administrators, and professional development providers, the guide offers three evidence-based recommendations for teaching algebra:

  • Use solved problems to engage students in analysing algebraic reasoning and strategies.
  • Teach students to utilise the structure of algebraic representations.
  • Teach students to intentionally choose from alternative algebraic strategies when solving problems.

To develop the guide, the WWC combined recommendations from an expert panel with the findings of existing research. The guide includes examples to use in class and solutions to potential roadblocks.

Source: Teaching strategies for improving algebra knowledge in middle and high school students (2015), What Works Clearinghouse.

What are the effects of a technology-based algebra curriculum?

This working paper from the RAND Corporation examines the effectiveness of Cognitive Tutor Algebra I (CTAI), a technology-based algebra course designed for pupils at a variety of ability and year levels. The curriculum includes traditional textbook and workbook materials along with automated tutoring software that provides self-paced individualised tuition and attempts to bring pupils to mastery of a topic before they progress further.

Schools participating in the study were matched into similar pairs and randomly assigned to either continue with their current algebra curriculum for two years or to adopt CTAI. The sample included 73 high schools and 74 middle schools in seven US states.

Analysis of post-test outcomes on an algebra proficiency exam found no effects in the first year of implementation, but strong evidence in support of a positive effect in the second year. The estimated effect is statistically significant for high schools but not for middle schools. The authors report that in both cases, the magnitude is sufficient to improve the average pupil’s performance by approximately eight percentile points.

Source: Effectiveness of Cognitive Tutor Algebra I at Scale (2013), RAND Education.

A double dose takes time to work

A study in Education Next looks at the impact of double-dose algebra in Chicago Public Schools. In double-dose algebra, pupils are taught algebra for twice as long as normal. From 2003 in Chicago Public Schools, pupils who scored below the national median in their 8th-grade (Year 9) maths exam were given double-dose algebra during 9th grade, with the extra class providing support and extra practice.

An initial study found little short-term effect, but this new study follows the further progress of pupils who are just above the median (who did not receive double-dose algebra) or just below (who did receive the double dose). It found that pupils who had received the double dose had increased rates of high-school graduation and college enrollment. In particular, the intervention was most effective for pupils with relatively high maths skills, but relatively low reading skills. This may be a result of the intervention’s focus on reading and writing skills in the context of learning algebra.

Source: A double dose of algebra (2012), Education Next, 13(1)