Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Highlights from Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools

Many U.S. children start school with weak math skills, and there are differences between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds--those from poor families lag behind those from affluent ones--and these differences grow over time. The federal Title I program provides financial assistance to schools with a high number or percentage of poor children to help all students meet state academic standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Title I schools must make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in bringing their students to state-specific targets for proficiency in math and reading.

NCLB emphasizes the importance of adopting scientifically-based educational practices; however, there is little rigorous research evidence to support one math instructional theory or curriculum over another. The purpose of this large-scale study is to determine whether some early elementary school math curricula are more effective than others at improving student math achievement, thereby providing educators with information that may be useful for making AYP. A small number of curricula dominate elementary math instruction (seven math curricula account for 91 percent of the curricula used by K-2 educators), and the curricula are based on different theories for developing student math skills.

The Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools reports on the relative impacts of four math curricula on first-grade mathematics achievement. The curricula were selected to represent diverse approaches to teaching elementary school math in the United States. The four curricula are Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (published by Pearson Scott Foresman); Math Expressions (Houghton Mifflin Company); Saxon Math (Harcourt Achieve); and Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley (SFAW) Mathematics (Pearson Scott Foresman). The relative effects of the curricula are based on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K) math assessment, which is an adaptive test tailored to a student's achievement level.

This report contains the following key findings:

Curriculum Implementation
All teachers received initial training from the publishers and 96 percent received follow-up training. Training varied by curriculum, ranging from 1.4 days for Saxon to 3.9 days for Investigations.
Nearly all teachers (99 percent in the fall, 98 percent in the spring) reported using their assigned curriculum as their core math curriculum, and about a third reported supplementing their curriculum with other materials.
Eighty-eight percent of teachers reported completing at least 80 percent of their assigned curriculum.
On average, Saxon teachers reported spending one more hour on math instruction per week than did teachers of the other curricula.
Achievement Effects
Student math achievement was significantly higher in schools assigned to Math Expressions and Saxon, than in schools assigned to Investigations and SFAW. The average adjusted spring math achievement of Math Expressions and Saxon students was 0.30 standard deviations higher than Investigations students and 0.24 standard deviations higher than SFAW students. For a student at the 50th percentile in math achievement, these effects mean that the student's percentile rank would be 9 to 12 points higher if the school used Math Expressions or Saxon instead of Investigations or SFAW.
Math achievement in schools assigned to the two more effective curricula (Math Expressions and Saxon) was not significantly different, nor was math achievement in schools assigned to the two less effective curricula (Investigations and SFAW). The Math Expressions-Saxon and Investigations-SFAW differentials equal 0.02 and –0.07 standard deviations, respectively, and neither is statistically significant.
This study is the largest of its kind ever to use an experimental design to study a variety of math curricula. This report is based on the math achievement of first-graders in 4 districts and 39 schools during the 2006-07 school year. The 39 schools in this report are in four districts that are geographically dispersed in four states and in three regions of the country. The districts also fall in areas with different levels of urbanicity—two districts are in urban areas, one is in a suburban area, and the other is in a rural area. However, this is not a representative sample of districts and schools in the U.S., because interested sites are likely to be unique in ways that make it difficult to select a representative sample. Eligible districts were willing to use all four of the study’s curricula and allowed the curricula to be randomly assigned to their participating schools.

A second report will be based on the math achievement of first- and second-graders in all 12 districts and 110 schools participating in the study-—another 71 schools joined the study during the 2007-08 school year (the year after the 39 examined in this report joined). The second report will also include information from classroom observations of fidelity to each curricula, as well as classroom practices across the curricula.
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