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Project 2061 Study Seeks to Improve
Student Learning in Mathematics
As the debates about both slashed budgets and public school reform swirl across the country, the question of how best to teach the nation's children has been of pre-eminent concern. The issue is especially pressing in the areas of math, science, and technology, where the nation's students tend to lag behind other countries. According to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), American 13-year olds typically score near the international average, whereas nine-year-olds score above it, and 17-year-olds score below it.
"American kids tend to do well in math and science in the early grades. Unfortunately, the longer they're in school, the worse they do," says Kathleen Morris, senior research associate for AAAS's Project 2061, which recommends goals for student learning and strategies for improving the teaching of math, science, and technology. The TIMSS data also show that only about one-quarter of all eighth graders score at a level considered "proficient" on mathematics tests.
A new study by Project 2061 may help identify those factors that actually improve student learning in middle-grades mathematics. Funded with a $5.8 million grant from the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI), Project 2061in partnership with the University of Delaware and Texas A&M Universityis examining how professional development and high-quality curriculum help teachers convey important math concepts to their middle-school students.
The study breaks new ground because it is one of the first to look at the interactions of materials, classroom practices, and teacher training to see how they affect student learningrather than just focusing on theories. "There is a long history in education of people following fads without having any proof that they create better results," Morris says. "The fact is, we need more concrete evidence and more rigorous study."
Led by Dr. Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, the new study will gather empirical evidence in several ways. First, it will track real teacher performance in real classrooms. And second, rather than using "off-the-shelf" tests to measure the students' progress, the study will use both existing state tests and assessment tools specifically designed to measure the students' grasp of the IERI's benchmark mathematical concepts.
To monitor teacher performance, the investigators will videotape classroom lesson sequences. Then they'll use a computer program to analyze just how the teachers use the material offered in highly rated textbooks (e.g., whether or not the teachers do the recommended activities and what additional tasks they assign). The researchers can also use the program to see whether the teachers meet other criteria for good instruction, like providing a clear sense of purpose and incorporating relevant experiential exercises.
Once the researchers have analyzed the classroom lessons, they'll be able to correlate the teachers' useand modificationof the recommended curriculum to the students' patterns of achievement and their grasp of mathematical concepts. These insights will help the researchers create professional development experiences for the teachers that highlight best practices.
The videotaped lessons, as well as samples of student work, will eventually be used in professional development classes for other teachers. Online forums, in which teachers across the country can discuss teaching standards and styles, are also planned. The researchers will investigate the role of professional development and curriculum in middle-school science education at a later date.
"If we're going to invest in professional development, we need to know that it's professional development that's going to get results," Morris says. "It's all about getting the most bang for the buck."
29 January 2003