Widely Used Math Curricula in U.S. Schools Yield Significantly Different Results
Mathematica’s Second-Year Report on Mathematics Education Study
Media Advisory: November 2, 2010
Contact: Amy Berridge, (609) 945-3378
Debate has long raged about which instructional approaches have the greatest impact on student learning. This has been particularly true in early math where, lacking information about effective programs, educators have waged ideological battles about instructional materials. A new report from a large-scale federal study of four early math programs shows that math achievement for the two most effective curricula was significantly higher than that for the others. The report, the second from the study, provides additional evidence to inform the debate on which instructional approaches do the most to improve learning. The four distinct programs represent some of the most widely used approaches to teaching elementary school math in the United States. (Brief descriptions of curricula.)
The report, just released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, updates and reinforces previous findings that two programs significantly outperform the others in randomized trials. Researchers from Mathematica Policy Research and its subcontractor SRI International evaluated each curriculum for its effect on first- and second-grade math achievement. The main findings include:
In addition, Math Expressions and Saxon Math improved results for several subgroups, including students in schools with low math scores and students in schools with high poverty levels.
“These findings suggest that educators should choose their elementary math curriculum wisely,” says Roberto Agodini, senior economist and associate director at Mathematica who served as the study’s director and principal investigator. “As we continue to grapple with how to boost math achievement during the critical early years, particularly among disadvantaged students, this study offers compelling evidence to inform future research and help educators make decisions about which curricula best suit their needs and environment.”
Study Design and Implementation
The research team that produced the report, “Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings for First and Second Graders,” randomly assigned schools in each participating district to the four curricula. The sites are geographically dispersed in four states and three regions of the country. All teachers received training from the publishers and used the curriculum regularly throughout the school year to confirm that teachers were using the curricula as intended.
Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, provides a full range of research and data collection services, including program evaluation and policy research, survey design and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management, to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J., Ann Arbor, Mich., Cambridge, Mass., Chicago, Ill., Oakland, Calif., and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, disability, health care, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.