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Much-Used Elementary Math Program Gets Qualified Nod From U.S. Ed. Dept.

By David J. Hoff — September 19, 2006 2 min read
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A popular K-6 math curriculum has shown promise for improving student achievement but needs more thorough study before it can be declared effective, a federal research center reported last week.

A review of research on “Everyday Mathematics,” including a link to the complete report is posted by the What Works Clearinghouse at the U.S. Department of Education.

Everyday Mathematics, which is used by 3 million U.S. students in 175,000 classrooms, was deemed to raise students’ test scores by an average of 12 percentile points in a review of four studies reanalyzed by the What Works Clearinghouse at the U.S. Department of Education.

Those gains are “pretty strong,” said Phoebe Cottingham, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, which oversees the clearinghouse. But she said the curriculum could not receive the clearinghouse’s top ranking because none of the research conducted on it was a large-scale study that compared achievement among students who were randomly assigned either to the program or to a control group.

For the review, a team of clearinghouse researchers analyzed 62 studies on the impact of Everyday Mathematics, which was developed at the University of Chicago in the 1980s and is now published by the New York City-based McGraw-Hill Cos. Of those studies, just four met the clearinghouse’s quality criteria and underwent more analysis by its researchers.

Of those four, three studies found “positive” effects, but just one detected improvements in students’ math achievement that were considered statistically significant. The fourth study found no effect on test scores.

Based on those results, the report said the curriculum has “potentially positive effects,” the second-highest category on its ranking scale.

“The ranking underscores the stellar results [Everyday Mathematics] has had in the marketplace for over 20 years,” said Mary Skafidas, a spokeswoman for the McGraw-Hill Cos.

Everyday Mathematics is used widely across the country, including in most of the elementary schools in the 1.1 million-student New York City public school system, the nation’s largest.

In 1999, a federal panel of curriculum experts named Everyday Mathematics one of five math curricula with “promising” potential based on how well their materials aligned with national math standards. That list was later criticized by a group of mathematicians because they say programs it recognized failed to teach students basic math skills.

The current effort to evaluate programs’ effectiveness is hampered by a lack of high-quality studies published in academic journals and other places, some analysts say.

“It’s underwhelming the number of good studies done in math,” Ms. Cottingham said. “It’s a reflection on the past state of education research.”

The What Works Clearinghouse is the Education Department’s attempt to identify effective curricula and programs based on reviews of research. Previously, it has released evaluations of middle school math curricula and character education programs.

A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2006 edition of Education Week as Much-Used Elementary Math Program Gets Qualified Nod From U.S. Ed. Dept.

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