Getting Kids Math Help Before They Fall Behind

Getting Kids Math Help Before They Fall Behind

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(Image: ThinkStock)

The study of Elevate math was published Wednesday, July 8, by the U.S. Department of Education’s Regional Educational Laboratory Program. The research was a randomized trial conducted by WestEd, a nonprofit organization, for the department. The study tracked nearly 500 students — about 250 in the treatment group and about 250 in the control group — from six school districts in the summer of 2014. Among those in the group that experienced the program, 29% scored high enough to be considered ready for algebra in the fall; only 12% in the control group did.

The program focused on recruiting students who had achieved scores in the “low proficient” and “high basic” range on the state tests during the school year.

The program has four main components: 40 hours of special training for teachers; a curriculum that focuses on linear equations, ratios, and multiple representations, properties, and operations, and transformational geometry; 19 days of in-class instruction that blends online and in-person lessons; and a student field trip to a college and higher education awareness nights for families.

The goal is to prevent the cascade of consequences linked to failing eighth grade algebra by boosting students who are teetering on the edge.

And summertime might be a good time to reach disadvantaged students. Other research has suggested that children who score lower on academic tests are more likely to lose knowledge — they regress — over the summer break.

The Elevate summer math program appears to accelerate learning, but it’s not enough to ensure that these students will ace algebra in the fall. The majority of students scored lower than what is associated with a high probability of succeeding in algebra. The program is not a silver bullet, and is best used as one part of a larger effort to improve math instruction.

“One summer gets you significantly ahead, but it doesn’t solve everything,” Chaudhry said.

Neal Finkelstein, a senior research scientist at WestEd and one of the authors of the Elevate math research, said the teacher training in the program could have more lasting effects. They train certified teachers who will go back to the traditional school year with improved skills in teaching math.

“It’s an opportunity to strengthen the overall teaching corps,” he said.