Effective Programs in Elementary Mathematics: A Best-Evidence Synthesis

Sep. 30, 2008

Source: Review of Educational Research. Vol. 78, Iss. 3; September 2008.
p. 427-515
(Reviewed by The Portal Team)

This article reviews the achievement outcomes of three types of approaches to improving elementary mathematics:
(a) mathematics curricula, in which the main focus of the reform is on introduction of alternative textbooks.
(b) computer-assisted instruction (CAI), which uses technology to enhance student achievement in mathematics. CAI programs diagnose students' levels of performance and then provide exercises tailored to students' individual needs.
and (c) instructional process programs, which focus on teachers' instructional practices and classroom management strategies rather than on curriculum or technology. Instructional process programs introduce variations in withinclass grouping arrangements (as in cooperative learning or tutoring) and in the amounts and uses of instructional time.

The research purpose is to provide educators with meaningful, unbiased information that they can use to select programs and practices most likely to make a difference with their students. In addition, the review is intended to look broadly for factors that might underlie effective practices across programs and program types and to inform an overarching theory of effective instruction in elementary mathematics.

Study inclusion requirements included use of a randomized or matched control group, a study duration of at least 12 weeks, and achievement measures not inherent to the experimental treatment. 87 studies met these criteria, of which 36 used random assignment to treatments. There was limited evidence supporting differential effects of various mathematics textbooks. Effects of CAI were moderate. The strongest positive effects were found for instructional process approaches such as forms of cooperative learning, classroom management and motivation programs, and supplemental tutoring programs.
The review concludes that programs designed to change daily teaching practices appear to have more promise than those that deal primarily with curriculum or technology alone.

Updated: Dec. 14, 2008


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