What works in mathematics for elementary school students?

What works in mathematics for elementary school students?

By Marta Pellegrini, University of Florence, Italy

A new review of research, conducted by the team at JHU’s Center for Research and Reform in Education and recently published in AERA Open, analyzes the best available international evidence on math programs for children in elementary school to find out what works in math teaching and learning.

Eighty-seven studies of 66 programs were included in the review. Of these, 85% were randomized experiments and 15% were quasi-experiments. Results showed positive outcomes for tutoring programs (ES = +0.20), with larger effects for one-to-small group tutoring (ES = +0.30) compared to one-to-one tutoring (ES = +0.19). In addition, similar outcomes were found for teachers and teaching assistants as tutors.

Professional development (PD) programs were effective when they focused on classroom organization and management (ES = +0.19), such as implementation of cooperative learning, or when they were intended to support the adoption of traditional (non-digital) curricula (ES = +0.12). No impact was found for PD focused on the implementation of digital curricula, nor mathematics content and pedagogy. Traditional and digital curricula with a limited focus on PD (less than 2 days), as well as benchmark assessment programs, found few positive outcomes.

The article concluded that low-achieving students in mathematics can make substantial gains if they receive cost-effective small group tutoring.  At the class level, cooperative learning and classroom management approaches with a focus on teacher PD have great potential in improving student achievement and overcoming inequalities in mathematics.

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