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Effective Programs in Middle and High School Mathematics: A Best Evidence Synthesis

What mathematics programs have been proven to help middle and high school students to succeed? To find out, this review summarizes evidence on three types of programs designed to improve the mathematics achievement of students in grades 6-12:

  • Mathematics Curricula (MC), such as The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, Connected Mathematics, Saxon Math, and other standard and alternative textbooks.
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI), such as I Can Learn, Jostens/Compass Learning, and Accelerated Math.
  • Instructional Process Programs (IP), such as cooperative learning, mastery learning, and other approaches primarily intended to change teachers’ instructional strategies rather than curriculum or technology.

Key Findings

Overall, 102 studies met the inclusion criterion, of which 28 used random assignment to treatments. These included 40 studies of mathematics curricula, 40 studies of CAI, and 22 studies of instructional process programs.

Mathematics Curricula (MC) Taken together, there were 40 qualifying studies evaluating various mathematics curricula, with a sample size-weighted mean effect size of only +0.03. This is less than the effect size of +0.10 for elementary mathematics curricula reported by Slavin & Lake (2008). There were eight randomized and randomized quasi-experimental studies, also with a weighted mean effect size of +0.03. Effect sizes for the NSF-supported textbooks had a weighted mean effect size of 0.00 in 26 studies. However, the NSF programs add objectives not covered in traditional texts, so to the degree those objectives are seen as valuable, these programs are adding impacts not registered on the assessments of content covered in all treatments.

Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) A total of 40 qualifying studies evaluated various forms of computer-assisted instruction. Overall, the weighted mean effect size was +0.08, a modest impact. No program stood out as having notably large and replicated effects. There were few differences among programs categorized as core (weighted mean ES=+0.09 in 17 studies) and 2 supplemental (weighted mean ES=+0.08 in 20 studies). Computer-managed learning systems (ES=-0.02 in 3 studies) had lower effect sizes.