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new study comparing outcomes w/ TERC and other math programs

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  • Leonie Haimson
    See EdWeek article below, describing the results of one of the few large scale randomized studies to be done on math curricula, comparing the effects of four
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2009

      See EdWeek article below, describing the results of one of the few large scale randomized studies to be done on math curricula, comparing the effects of four different programs, Saxon Math, Math Expressions, Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics, and Investigations on first grade students.

      The results showed significant gains for Saxon Math and math Expressions, with students scoring 9 to 12 percentile points higher, and the worst results for “Investigations” ie TERC math, which is taught in most District 2 schools. 

      TERC has the been the bane of many parents since it was introduced to D2 schools more than twelve years ago, and despite the fact that most schools in the district are now free to choose their own math curricula, it retains a lock-hold in most of our schools.

      The study also analyzed differential effects for four subgroups: (1) participating districts, (2) school fall achievement, (3) school free/reduced-price meals eligibility, (4) teacher education, (5) teacher experience, and (6) teacher math content/pedagogical knowledge.


      “There were no subgroups for which Investigations or SFAW showed a statistically significant advantage.”


      What’s also interesting is despite the huge emphasis on professional development in the ideology of D2, the teachers who used Investigations and Scott Foresman – -- the least effective curricula --attended 2.2 to 2.9 days of follow-up training, compared to teachers who used Math Expressions and Saxon, who reported attending only 0.4 to 0.5 days of training – and yet got far better results.


      The study has a good description of TERC: 


      Investigations uses a student-centered approach that implements instructional practices aligned with constructivist learning theory. The content is presented in thematic units, and activities within each unit include real-life problems that students are to solve in multiple ways. The curriculum emphasizes metacognition (thinking about one’s own reasoning and the reasoning of one’s peers) and communicating about mathematics in multiple ways rather than focusing on getting the correct answer. Students work on a smaller number of problems in a class session, may work on a single problem across multiple sessions, and regularly use manipulatives. …


      The Investigations curriculum is designed to have students work in pairs or small groups and talk to one another about their work. Teachers spend much of their time facilitating conversations among students, helping students express their thoughts, and guiding students to a deeper understanding of the mathematical concepts they are working on. Classroom activities often vary by day and depend on the length of the investigation. For example, during an investigation lasting one week, on the first day the teacher will introduce the investigation (new concept) to the class, often through large group hands-on activities with the students. During the next two to three days, students will work in pairs or small groups to explore the concept, by working on one or two in-depth problems each day, playing mathematical games, or working on choice time activities. At the end of each day, they frequently discuss as a group what they worked on that day. In the last session of the investigation, the students and teacher will discuss as a group what they learned during the investigation and the strategies they used to solve problems

      Exactly.  First graders focusing on “metacognition” rather than getting the right answer. My very verbal first grade daughter could go on at great length about the various “strategies” she would use to solve a problem. Though we rarely understood what she was talking about, what bothered us the most was that none of those “strategies” actually helped her figure out the right answer.

      Saxon math is a more traditional non-constructivist curriculum: “The teacher introduces concepts or efficient strategies for solving problems. Students observe and then receive guided practice, followed by distributed practice. Students hear the correct answers and are explicitly taught procedures and strategies. Frequent monitoring of student achievement is built into the program. Daily routines are extensive and emphasize practice of number concepts and procedures and use of representations.”


      Math Expressions apparently lies somewhere in between: “Math Expressions … blends student-centered and teacher-directed approaches to mathematics. Students question and discuss mathematics, but are explicitly taught effective procedures.”


      For the full study see here:http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20094052/index.asp.  The researchers will publish at least two follow-up reports with results from more schools and more grades in future years.

      Updated: February 27, 2009

      Includes correction(s): February 27, 2009

      Study Finds Edge for Certain Early-Math Programs

      By Debra Viadero

      Premium article access courtesy of Edweek.org.

      Two programs for teaching mathematics in the early grades­—Math Expressions and Saxon Math—emerge as clear winners in a large-scale federal study that pits four popular math curricula against one another.

      Involving 1,309 1st graders in 39 elementary schools, the four-state study is thought to be the largest to experimentally test out some of the nation’s most widely used commercial math programs. The results were posted online this evening by the Institute of Education Sciences , the federal research agency that commissioned the study, and Mathematica Policy Research Inc. of Princeton , N.J. , the independent research group that is heading it up.

      The study is an effort to bring hard evidence to bear in the “math wars”—a debate over teaching methods that has largely gone on without much scientific proof of effectiveness.

      To shed some light on the subject, researchers focused on K-2 programs that represent a range of teaching methods, from scripted programs that explicitly teach children ways to solve problems to approaches that encourage students to reason and explore mathematics on their own.

      The Saxon Math program, which is now published by Harcourt Achieve in Austin , Texas , is more representative of the former approach, according to Mathematica, while Math Expressions, a curriculum marketed by the Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Co., is more of a blend of teacher-directed and student-centered instruction. According to Mathematica’s press release, students in Math Expressions “question and discuss math but are explicitly taught effective procedures.”

      Randomized Trial

      Of the other two curricular programs in the study, Investigations in Number, Data, and Space, published by Pearson Scott Foresman, is the more student-focused. The researchers describe the last program—Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics—as a basic-skills curriculum that combines teacher-led instruction with a variety of different materials and teaching strategies.

      Researchers randomly assigned each of the programs to 10 different schools for use over the 2006-07 school year, and teachers reported later on that the assigned curricula served as the backbone of their math instruction that year.

      To determine how much math students learned, the researchers used a nationally normed math exam that was developed for the federal government’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.

      At the end of 1st grade, the investigators found, children in the classrooms using the Saxon and the Math Expressions curricula scored 9 to 12 percentile points higher on those tests than their counterparts in the other classrooms.

      While teachers in each of the four curricular groups received similar amounts of training on using the programs, the teachers in the Saxon Math group reported spending an average of an hour more each week teaching math.

      Researchers said the report is the first of three on the study, which is ongoing. Seventy-one more schools joined the study in the 2007-08 academic year and researchers plan to continue to analyze results on students’ mathematical progress through the 2008-09 school year.



      Leonie Haimson
      Executive Director
      Class Size Matters
      124 Waverly Pl.
      New York , NY 10011


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