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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations 5 Comparative Studies It is deceptively simple to imagine that a curriculum’s effectiveness could be easily determined by a single well-designed study. Such a study would randomly assign students to two treatment groups, one using the experimental materials and the other using a widely established comparative program. The students would be taught the entire curriculum, and a test administered at the end of instruction would provide unequivocal results that would permit one to identify the more effective treatment. The truth is that conducting definitive comparative studies is not simple, and many factors make such an approach difficult. Student placement and curricular choice are decisions that involve multiple groups of decision makers, accrue over time, and are subject to day-to-day conditions of instability, including student mobility, parent preference, teacher assignment, administrator and school board decisions, and the impact of standardized testing. This complex set of institutional policies, school contexts, and individual personalities makes comparative studies, even quasi-experimental approaches, challenging, and thus demands an honest and feasible assessment of what can be expected of evaluation studies (Usiskin, 1997; Kilpatrick, 2002; Schoenfeld, 2002; Shafer, in press). Comparative evaluation study is an evolving methodology, and our purpose in conducting this review was to evaluate and learn from the efforts undertaken so far and advise on future efforts. We stipulated the use of comparative studies as follows:
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations A comparative study was defined as a study in which two (or more) curricular treatments were investigated over a substantial period of time (at least one semester, and more typically an entire school year) and a comparison of various curricular outcomes was examined using statistical tests. A statistical test was required to ensure the robustness of the results relative to the study’s design. We read and reviewed a set of 95 comparative studies. In this report we describe that database, analyze its results, and draw conclusions about the quality of the evaluation database both as a whole and separated into evaluations supported by the National Science Foundation and commercially generated evaluations. In addition to describing and analyzing this database, we also provide advice to those who might wish to fund or conduct future comparative evaluations of mathematics curricular effectiveness. We have concluded that the process of conducting such evaluations is in its adolescence and could benefit from careful synthesis and advice in order to increase its rigor, feasibility, and credibility. In addition, we took an interdisciplinary approach to the task, noting that various committee members brought different expertise and priorities to the consideration of what constitutes the most essential qualities of rigorous and valid experimental or quasi-experimental design in evaluation. This interdisciplinary approach has led to some interesting observations and innovations in our methodology of evaluation study review. This chapter is organized as follows: Study counts disaggregated by program and program type. Seven critical decision points and identification of at least minimally methodologically adequate studies. Definition and illustration of each decision point. A summary of results by student achievement in relation to program types (NSF-supported, University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP), and commercially generated) in relation to their reported outcome measures. A list of alternative hypotheses on effectiveness. Filters based on the critical decision points. An analysis of results by subpopulations. An analysis of results by content strand. An analysis of interactions among content, equity, and grade levels. Discussion and summary statements. In this report, we describe our methodology for review and synthesis so that others might scrutinize our approach and offer criticism on the basis of
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations our methodology and its connection to the results stated and conclusions drawn. In the spirit of scientific, fair, and open investigation, we welcome others to undertake similar or contrasting approaches and compare and discuss the results. Our work was limited by the short timeline set by the funding agencies resulting from the urgency of the task. Although we made multiple efforts to collect comparative studies, we apologize to any curriculum evaluators if comparative studies were unintentionally omitted from our database. Of these 95 comparative studies, 65 were studies of NSF-supported curricula, 27 were studies of commercially generated materials, and 3 included two curricula each from one of these two categories. To avoid the problem of double coding, two studies, White et al. (1995) and Zahrt (2001), were coded within studies of NSF-supported curricula because more of the classes studied used the NSF-supported curriculum. These studies were not used in later analyses because they did not meet the requirements for the at least minimally methodologically adequate studies, as described below. The other, Peters (1992), compared two commercially generated curricula, and was coded in that category under the primary program of focus. Therefore, of the 95 comparative studies, 67 studies were coded as NSF-supported curricula and 28 were coded as commercially generated materials. The 11 evaluation studies of the UCSMP secondary program that we reviewed, not including White et al. and Zahrt as previously mentioned, benefit from the maturity of the program, while demonstrating an orientation to both establishing effectiveness and improving a product line. For these reasons, at times we will present the summary of UCSMP’s data separately. The Saxon materials also present a somewhat different profile from the other commercially generated materials because many of the evaluations of these materials were conducted in the 1980s and the materials were originally developed with a rather atypical program theory. Saxon (1981) designed its algebra materials to combine distributed practice with incremental development. We selected the Saxon materials as a middle grades commercially generated program, and limited its review to middle school studies from 1989 onward when the first National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards (NCTM, 1989) were released. This eliminated concerns that the materials or the conditions of educational practice have been altered during the intervening time period. The Saxon materials explicitly do not draw from the NCTM Standards nor did they receive support from the NSF; thus they truly represent a commercial venture. As a result, we categorized the Saxon studies within the group of studies of commercial materials. At times in this report, we describe characteristics of the database by
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations FIGURE 5-1 The distribution of comparative studies across programs. Programs are coded by grade band: black bars = elementary, white bars = middle grades, and gray bars = secondary. In this figure, there are six studies that involved two programs and one study that involved three programs. NOTE: Five programs (MathScape, MMAP, MMOW/ARISE, Addison-Wesley, and Harcourt) are not shown above since no comparative studies were reviewed. particular curricular program evaluations, in which case all 19 programs are listed separately. At other times, when we seek to inform ourselves on policy-related issues of funding and evaluating curricular materials, we use the NSF-supported, commercially generated, and UCSMP distinctions. We remind the reader of the artificial aspects of this distinction because at the present time, 18 of the 19 curricula are published commercially. In order to track the question of historical inception and policy implications, a distinction is drawn between the three categories. Figure 5-1 shows the distribution of comparative studies across the 14 programs. The first result the committee wishes to report is the uneven distribution of studies across the curricula programs. There were 67 coded studies of the NSF curricula, 11 studies of UCSMP, and 17 studies of the commercial publishers. The 14 evaluation studies conducted on the Saxon materials compose the bulk of these 17-non-UCSMP and non-NSF-supported curricular evaluation studies. As these results suggest, we know more about the
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations evaluations of the NSF-supported curricula and UCSMP than about the evaluations of the commercial programs. We suggest that three factors account for this uneven distribution of studies. First, evaluations have been funded by the NSF both as a part of the original call, and as follow-up to the work in the case of three supplemental awards to two of the curricula programs. Second, most NSF-supported programs and UCSMP were developed at university sites where there is access to the resources of graduate students and research staff. Finally, there was some reported reluctance on the part of commercial companies to release studies that could affect perceptions of competitive advantage. As Figure 5-1 shows, there were quite a few comparative studies of Everyday Mathematics (EM), Connected Mathematics Project (CMP), Contemporary Mathematics in Context (Core-Plus Mathematics Project [CPMP]), Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP), UCSMP, and Saxon. In the programs with many studies, we note that a significant number of studies were generated by a core set of authors. In some cases, the evaluation reports follow a relatively uniform structure applied to single schools, generating multiple studies or following cohorts over years. Others use a standardized evaluation approach to evaluate sequential courses. Any reports duplicating exactly the same sample, outcome measures, or forms of analysis were eliminated. For example, one study of Mathematics Trailblazers (Carter et al., 2002) reanalyzed the data from the larger ARC Implementation Center study (Sconiers et al., 2002), so it was not included separately. Synthesis studies referencing a variety of evaluation reports are summarized in Chapter 6, but relevant individual studies that were referenced in them were sought out and included in this comparative review. Other less formal comparative studies are conducted regularly at the school or district level, but such studies were not included in this review unless we could obtain formal reports of their results, and the studies met the criteria outlined for inclusion in our database. In our conclusions, we address the issue of how to collect such data more systematically at the district or state level in order to subject the data to the standards of scholarly peer review and make it more systematically and fairly a part of the national database on curricular effectiveness. A standard for evaluation of any social program requires that an impact assessment is warranted only if two conditions are met: (1) the curricular program is clearly specified, and (2) the intervention is well implemented. Absent this assurance, one must have a means of ensuring or measuring treatment integrity in order to make causal inferences. Rossi et al. (1999, p. 238) warned that: two prerequisites [must exist] for assessing the impact of an intervention. First, the program’s objectives must be sufficiently well articulated to make
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations it possible to specify credible measures of the expected outcomes, or the evaluator must be able to establish such a set of measurable outcomes. Second, the intervention should be sufficiently well implemented that there is no question that its critical elements have been delivered to appropriate targets. It would be a waste of time, effort, and resources to attempt to estimate the impact of a program that lacks measurable outcomes or that has not been properly implemented. An important implication of this last consideration is that interventions should be evaluated for impact only when they have been in place long enough to have ironed out implementation problems. These same conditions apply to evaluation of mathematics curricula. The comparative studies in this report varied in the quality of documentation of these two conditions; however, all addressed them to some degree or another. Initially by reviewing the studies, we were able to identify one general design template, which consisted of seven critical decision points and determined that it could be used to develop a framework for conducting our meta-analysis. The seven critical decision points we identified initially were: Choice of type of design: experimental or quasi-experimental; For those studies that do not use random assignment: what methods of establishing comparability of groups were built into the design—this includes student characteristics, teacher characteristics, and the extent to which professional development was involved as part of the definition of a curriculum; Definition of the appropriate unit of analysis (students, classes, teachers, schools, or districts); Inclusion of an examination of implementation components; Definition of the outcome measures and disaggregated results by program; The choice of statistical tests, including statistical significance levels and effect size; and Recognition of limitations to generalizability resulting from design choices. These are critical decisions that affect the quality of an evaluation. We further identified a subset of these evaluation studies that met a set of minimum conditions that we termed at least minimally methodologically adequate studies. Such studies are those with the greatest likelihood of shedding light on the effectiveness of these programs. To be classified as at least minimally methodologically adequate, and therefore to be considered for further analysis, each evaluation study was required to:
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations Include quantifiably measurable outcomes such as test scores, responses to specified cognitive tasks of mathematical reasoning, performance evaluations, grades, and subsequent course taking; and Provide adequate information to judge the comparability of samples. In addition, a study must have included at least one of the following additional design elements: A report of implementation fidelity or professional development activity; Results disaggregated by content strands or by performance by student subgroups; and/or Multiple outcome measures or precise theoretical analysis of a measured construct, such as number sense, proof, or proportional reasoning. Using this rubric, the committee identified a subset of 63 comparative studies to classify as at least minimally methodologically adequate and to analyze in depth to inform the conduct of future evaluations. There are those who would argue that any threat to the validity of a study discredits the findings, thus claiming that until we know everything, we know nothing. Others would claim that from the myriad of studies, examining patterns of effects and patterns of variation, one can learn a great deal, perhaps tentatively, about programs and their possible effects. More importantly, we can learn about methodologies and how to concentrate and focus to increase the likelihood of learning more quickly. As Lipsey (1997, p. 22) wrote: In the long run, our most useful and informative contribution to program managers and policy makers and even to the evaluation profession itself may be the consolidation of our piecemeal knowledge into broader pictures of the program and policy spaces at issue, rather than individual studies of particular programs. We do not wish to imply that we devalue studies of student affect or conceptions of mathematics, but decided that unless these indicators were connected to direct indicators of student learning, we would eliminate them from further study. As a result of this sorting, we eliminated 19 studies of NSF-supported curricula and 13 studies of commercially generated curricula. Of these, 4 were eliminated for their sole focus on affect or conceptions, 3 were eliminated for their comparative focus on outcomes other than achievement, such as teacher-related variables, and 19 were eliminated for their failure to meet the minimum additional characteristics specified in the criteria above. In addition, six others were excluded from the studies of commercial materials because they were not conducted within the grade-
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations level band specified by the committee for the selection of that program. From this point onward, all references can be assumed to refer to at least minimally methodologically adequate unless a study is referenced for illustration, in which case we label it with “EX” to indicate that it is excluded in the summary analyses. Studies labeled “EX” are occasionally referenced because they can provide useful information on certain aspects of curricular evaluation, but not on the overall effectiveness. The at least minimally methodologically adequate studies reported on a variety of grade levels. Figure 5-2 shows the different grade levels of the studies. At times, the choice of grade levels was dictated by the years in which high-stakes tests were given. Most of the studies reported on multiple grade levels, as shown in Figure 5-2. Using the seven critical design elements of at least minimally methodologically adequate studies as a design template, we describe the overall database and discuss the array of choices on critical decision points with examples. Following that, we report on the results on the at least minimally methodologically adequate studies by program type. To do so, the results of each study were coded as either statistically significant or not. Those studies FIGURE 5-2 Single-grade studies by grade and multigrade studies by grade band.
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations that contained statistically significant results were assigned a percentage of outcomes that are positive (in favor of the treatment curriculum) based on the number of statistically significant comparisons reported relative to the total number of comparisons reported, and a percentage of outcomes that are negative (in favor of the comparative curriculum). The remaining were coded as the percentage of outcomes that are non significant. Then, using seven critical decision points as filters, we identified and examined more closely sets of studies that exhibited the strongest designs, and would therefore be most likely to increase our confidence in the validity of the evaluation. In this last section, we consider alternative hypotheses that could explain the results. The committee emphasizes that we did not directly evaluate the materials. We present no analysis of results aggregated across studies by naming individual curricular programs because we did not consider the magnitude or rigor of the database for individual programs substantial enough to do so. Nevertheless, there are studies that provide compelling data concerning the effectiveness of the program in a particular context. Furthermore, we do report on individual studies and their results to highlight issues of approach and methodology and to remain within our primary charge, which was to evaluate the evaluations, we do not summarize results of the individual programs. DESCRIPTION OF COMPARATIVE STUDIES DATABASE ON CRITICAL DECISION POINTS An Experimental or Quasi-Experimental Design We separated the studies into experimental and quasiexperimental, and found that 100 percent of the studies were quasiexperimental (Campbell and Stanley, 1966; Cook and Campbell, 1979; and Rossi et al., 1999).1 Within the quasi-experimental studies, we identified three subcategories of comparative study. In the first case, we identified a study as cross-curricular comparative if it compared the results of curriculum A with curriculum B. A few studies in this category also compared two samples within the curriculum to each other and specified different conditions such as high and low implementation quality. A second category of a quasi-experimental study involved comparisons that could shed light on effectiveness involving time series studies. These studies compared the performance of a sample of students in a curriculum 1 One study, by Peters (1992), used random assignment to two classrooms, but was classified as quasi-experimental with its sample size and use of qualitative methods.
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations FIGURE 5-3 The number of comparative studies in each category. under investigation across time, such as in a longitudinal study of the same students over time. A third category of comparative study involved a comparison to some form of externally normed results, such as populations taking state, national, or international tests or prior research assessment from a published study or studies. We categorized these studies and divided them into NSF, UCSMP, and commercial and labeled them by the categories above (Figure 5-3). In nearly all studies in the comparative group, the titles of experimental curricula were explicitly identified. The only exception to this was the ARC Implementation Center study (Sconiers et al., 2002), where three NSF-supported elementary curricula were examined, but in the results, their effects were pooled. In contrast, in the majority of the cases, the comparison curriculum is referred to simply as “traditional.” In only 22 cases were comparisons made between two identified curricula. Many others surveyed the array of curricula at comparison schools and reported on the most frequently used, but did not identify a single curriculum. This design strategy is used often because other factors were used in selecting comparison groups, and the additional requirement of a single identified curriculum in
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations these sites would often make it difficult to match. Studies were categorized into specified (including a single or multiple identified curricula) and nonspecified curricula. In the 63 studies, the central group was compared to an NSF-supported curriculum (1), an unnamed traditional curriculum (41), a named traditional curriculum (19), and one of the six commercial curricula (2). To our knowledge, any systematic impact of such a decision on results has not been studied, but we express concern that when a specified curriculum is compared to an unspecified content which is a set of many informal curriculum, the comparison may favor the coherency and consistency of the single curricula, and we consider this possibility subsequently under alternative hypotheses. We believe that a quality study should at least report the array of curricula that comprise the comparative group and include a measure of the frequency of use of each, but a well-defined alternative is more desirable. If a study was both longitudinal and comparative, then it was coded as comparative. When studies only examined performances of a group over time, such as in some longitudinal studies, it was coded as quasi-experimental normed. In longitudinal studies, the problems created by student mobility were evident. In one study, Carroll (2001), a five-year longitudinal study of Everyday Mathematics, the sample size began with 500 students, 24 classrooms, and 11 schools. By 2nd grade, the longitudinal sample was 343. By 3rd grade, the number of classes increased to 29 while the number of original students decreased to 236 students. At the completion of the study, approximately 170 of the original students were still in the sample. This high rate of attrition from the study suggests that mobility is a major challenge in curricular evaluation, and that the effects of curricular change on mobile students needs to be studied as a potential threat to the validity of the comparison. It is also a challenge in curriculum implementation because students coming into a program do not experience its cumulative, developmental effect. Longitudinal studies also have unique challenges associated with outcome measures, a study by Romberg et al. (in press) (EX) discussed one approach to this problem. In this study, an external assessment system and a problem-solving assessment system were used. In the External Assessment System, items from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and Third International Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMSS) were balanced across four strands (number, geometry, algebra, probability and statistics), and 20 items of moderate difficulty, called anchor items, were repeated on each grade-specific assessment (p. 8). Because the analyses of the results are currently under way, the evaluators could not provide us with final results of this study, so it is coded as EX. However, such longitudinal studies can provide substantial evidence of the effects of a curricular program because they may be more sensitive to an
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations TABLE 5-13 Most Common Subgroups Used in the Analyses and the Number of Studies That Reported on That Variable Identified Subgroup Number of Studies of NSF-Supported Number of Studies of Commercially Generated Total Gender 14 5 19 Race and ethnicity 14 2 16 Socioeconomic status 8 2 10 Achievement levelsa 5 3 8 English as a second language (ESL) 2 1 3 Total 43 13 56 aAchievement levels: Outcome data are reported in relation to categorizations by quartiles or by achievement level based on independent test. other 37 reported on the effects of the curricular intervention on means of whole groups and their standard deviations, but did not report on their data in terms of the impact on subpopulations. Of those 26 evaluations, 19 studies were on NSF-supported programs and 7 were on commercially generated materials. Table 5-13 reports the most common subgroups used in the analyses and the number of studies that reported on that variable. Because many studies used multiple categories for disaggregation (ethnicity, SES, and gender), the number of reports is more than double the number of studies. For this reason, we report the study results in terms of the “frequency of reports on a particular subgroup” and distinguish this from what we refer to as “study counts.” The advantage of this approach is that it permits reporting on studies that investigated multiple ways to disaggregate their data. The disadvantage is that in a sense, studies undertaking multiple disaggregations become overrepresented in the data set as a result. A similar distinction and approach were used in our treatment of disaggregation by content strands. It is apparent from these data that the evaluators of NSF-supported curricula documented more equity-based outcomes, as they reported 43 of the 56 comparisons. However, the same percentage of the NSF-supported evaluations disaggregated their results by subgroup, as did commercially generated evaluations (41 percent in both cases). This is an area where evaluations of curricula could benefit greatly from standardization of ex-
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations pectation and methodology. Given the importance of the topic of equity, it should be standard practice to include such analyses in evaluation studies. In summarizing these 26 studies, the first consideration was whether representative samples of students were evaluated. As we have learned from medical studies, if conclusions on effectiveness are drawn without careful attention to representativeness of the sample relative to the whole population, then the generalizations drawn from the results can be seriously flawed. In Chapter 2 we reported that across the studies, approximately 81 percent of the comparative studies and 73 percent of the case studies reported data on school location (urban, suburban, rural, or state/region), with suburban students being the largest percentage in both study types. The proportions of students studied indicated a tendency to undersample urban and rural populations and oversample suburban schools. With a high concentration of minorities and lower SES students in these areas, there are some concerns about the representativeness of the work. A second consideration was to see whether the achievement effects of curricular interventions were achieved evenly among the various subgroups. Studies answered this question in different ways. Most commonly, evaluators reported on the performance of various subgroups in the treatment conditions as compared to those same subgroups in the comparative condition. They reported outcome scores or gains from pretest to posttest. We refer to these as “between” comparisons. Other studies reported on the differences among subgroups within an experimental treatment, describing how well one group does in comparison with another group. Again, these reports were done in relation either to outcome measures or to gains from pretest to posttest. Often these reports contained a time element, reporting on how the internal achievement patterns changed over time as a curricular program was used. We refer to these as “within” comparisons. Some studies reported both between and within comparisons. Others did not report findings by comparing mean scores or gains, but rather created regression equations that predicted the outcomes and examined whether demographic characteristics are related to performance. Six studies (all on NSF-supported curricula) used this approach with variables related to subpopulations. Twelve studies used ANCOVA or Multiple Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) to study disaggregation by subgroup, and two reported on comparative effect sizes. In the studies using statistical tests other than t-tests or Chi-squares, two were evaluations of commercially generated materials and the rest were of NSF-supported materials. Of the studies that reported on gender (n=19), the NSF-supported ones (n=13) reported five cases in which the females outperformed their counterparts in the controls and one case in which the female-male gap decreased within the experimental treatments across grades. In most cases, the studies
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations present a mixed picture with some bright spots, with the majority showing no significant difference. One study reported significant improvements for African-American females. In relation to race, 15 of 16 reports on African Americans showed positive effects in favor of the treatment group for NSF-supported curricula. Two studies reported decreases in the gaps between African Americans and whites or Asians. One of the two evaluations of African Americans, performance reported for the commercially generated materials, showed significant positive results, as mentioned previously. For Hispanic students, 12 of 15 reports of the NSF-supported materials were significantly positive, with the other 3 showing no significant difference. One study reported a decrease in the gaps in favor of the experimental group. No evaluations of commercially generated materials were reported on Hispanic populations. Other reports on ethnic groups occurred too seldom to generalize. Students from lower socioeconomic groups fared well, according to reported evaluations of NSF-supported materials (n=8), in that experimental groups outperformed control groups in all but one case. The one study of commercially generated materials that included SES as a variable reported no significant difference. For students with limited English proficiency, of the two evaluations of NSF-supported materials, one reported significantly more positive results for the experimental treatment. Likewise, one study of commercially generated materials yielded a positive result at the elementary level. We also examined the data for ability differences and found reports by quartiles for a few evaluation studies. In these cases, the evaluations showed results across quartiles in favor of the NSF-supported materials. In one case using the same program, the lower quartiles showed the most improvement, and in the other, the gains were in the middle and upper groups for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and evenly distributed for the informal assessment. Summary Statements After reviewing these studies, the committee observed that examining differences by gender, race, SES, and performance levels should be examined as a regular part of any review of effectiveness. We would recommend that all comparative studies report on both “between” and “within” comparisons so that the audience of an evaluation can simply and easily consider the level of improvement, its distribution across subgroups, and the impact of curricular implementation on any gaps in performance. Each of the major categories—gender, race/ethnicity, SES, and achievement level—contributes a significant and contrasting view of curricular impact. Further-
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations more, more sophisticated accounts would begin to permit, across studies, finer distinctions to emerge, such as the effect of a program on young African-American women or on first generation Asian students. In addition, the committee encourages further study and deliberation on the use of more complex approaches to the examination of equity issues. This is particularly important due to the overlaps among these categories, where poverty can show itself as its own variable but also may be highly correlated to prior performance. Hence, the use of one variable can mask differences that should be more directly attributable to another. The committee recommends that a group of measurement and equity specialists confer on the most effective design to advance on these questions. Finally, it is imperative that evaluation studies systematically include demographically representative student populations and distinguish evaluations that follow the commercial patterns of use from those that seek to establish effectiveness with a diverse student population. Along these lines, it is also important that studies report on the impact data on all substantial ethnic groups, including whites. Many studies, perhaps because whites were the majority population, failed to report on this ethnic group in their analyses. As we saw in one study, where Asian students were from poor homes and first generation, any subgroup can be an at-risk population in some setting, and because gains in means may not necessarily be assumed to translate to gains for all subgroups or necessarily for the majority subgroup. More complete and thorough descriptions and configurations of characteristics of the subgroups being served at any location—with careful attention to interactions—is needed in evaluations. Interactions Among Content and Equity, by Grade Band By examining disaggregation by content strand by grade levels, along with disaggregation by diverse subpopulations, the committee began to discover grade band patterns of performance that should be useful in the conduct of future evaluations. Examining each of these issues in isolation can mask some of the overall effects of curricular use. Two examples of such analysis are provided. The first example examines all the evaluations of NSF-supported curricula from the elementary level. The second examines the set of evaluations of NSF-supported curricula at the high school level, and cannot be carried out on evaluations of commercially generated programs because they lack disaggregation by student subgroup. Example One At the elementary level, the findings of the review of evaluations of data on effectiveness of NSF-supported curricula report consistent patterns of
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations benefits to students. Across the studies, it appears that positive results are enhanced when accompanied by adequate professional development and the use of pedagogical methods consistent with those indicated by the curricula. The benefits are most consistently evidenced in the broadening topics of geometry, measurement, probability, and statistics, and in applied problem solving and reasoning. It is important to consider whether the outcome measures in these areas demonstrate a depth of understanding. In early understanding of fractions and algebra, there is some evidence of improvement. Weaknesses are sometimes reported in the areas of computational skills, especially in the routinization of multiplication and division. These assertions are tentative due to the possible flaws in designs but quite consistent across studies, and future evaluations should seek to replicate, modify, or discredit these results. The way to most efficiently and effectively link informal reasoning and formal algorithms and procedures is an open question. Further research is needed to determine how to most effectively link the gains and flexibility associated with student-generated reasoning to the automaticity and generalizability often associated with mastery of standard algorithms. The data from these evaluations at the elementary level generally present credible evidence of increased success in engaging minority students and students in poverty based on reported gains that are modestly higher for these students than for the comparative groups. What is less well documented in the studies is the extent to which the curricula counteract the tendencies to see gaps emerge and result in long-term persistence in performance by gender and minority group membership as they move up the grades. However, the evaluations do indicate that these curricula can help, and almost never do harm. Finally, on the question of adequate challenge for advanced and talented students, the data are equivocal. More attention to this issue is needed. Example Two The data at the high school level produced the most conflicting results, and in conducting future evaluations, evaluators will need to examine this level more closely. We identify the high school as the crucible for curricular change for three reasons: (1) the transition to postsecondary education puts considerable pressure on these curricula; (2) the criteria outlined in the NSF RFP specify significant changes from traditional practice; and (3) high school freshmen arrive from a myriad of middle school curricular experiences. For the NSF-supported curricula, the RFP required that the programs provide a core curriculum “drawn from statistics/probability, algebra/functions, geometry/trigonometry, and discrete mathematics” (NSF, 1991, p. 2) and use “a full range of tools, including graphing calculators
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations and computers” (NSF, 1991, p. 2). The NSF RFP also specified the inclusion of “situations from the natural and social sciences and from other parts of the school curriculum as contexts for developing and using mathematics” (NSF, 1991, p. 1). It was during the fourth year that “course options should focus on special mathematical needs of individual students, accommodating not only the curricular demands of the college-bound but also specialized applications supportive of the workplace aspirations of employment-bound students” (NSF, 1991, p. 2). Because this set of requirements comprises a significant departure from conventional practice, the implementation of the high school curricula should be studied in particular detail. We report on a Systemic Initiative for Montana Mathematics and Science (SIMMS) study by Souhrada (2001) and Brown et al. (1990), in which students were permitted to select traditional, reform, and mixed tracks. It became apparent that the students were quite aware of the choices they faced, as illustrated in the following quote: The advantage of the traditional courses is that you learn—just math. It’s not applied. You get a lot of math. You may not know where to use it, but you learn a lot…. An advantage in SIMMS is that the kids in SIMMS tell me that they really understand the math. They understand where it comes from and where it is used. This quote succinctly captures the tensions reported as experienced by students. It suggests that student perceptions are an important source of evidence in conducting evaluations. As we examined these curricular evaluations across the grades, we paid particular attention to the specificity of the outcome measures in relation to curricular objectives. Overall, a review of these studies would lead one to draw the following tentative summary conclusions: There is some evidence of discontinuity in the articulation between high school and college, resulting from the organization and emphasis of the new curricula. This discontinuity can emerge in scores on college admission tests, placement tests, and first semester grades where nonreform students have shown some advantage on typical college achievement measures. The most significant areas of disadvantage seem to be in students’ facility with algebraic manipulation, and with formalization, mathematical structure, and proof when isolated from context and denied technological supports. There is some evidence of weakness in computation and numeration, perhaps due to reliance on calculators and varied policies regarding their use at colleges (Kahan, 1999; Huntley et al., 2000). There is also consistent evidence that the new curricula present
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations strengths in areas of solving applied problems, the use of technology, new areas of content development such as probability and statistics and functions-based reasoning in the use of graphs, using data in tables, and producing equations to describe situations (Huntley et al., 2000; Hirsch and Schoen, 2002). Despite early performance on standard outcome measures at the high school level showing equivalent or better performance by reform students (Austin et al., 1997; Merlino and Wolff, 2001), the common standardized outcome measures (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test [PSAT] scores or national tests) are too imprecise to determine with more specificity the comparisons between the NSF-supported and comparison approaches, while program-generated measures lack evidence of external validity and objectivity. There is an urgent need for a set of measures that would provide detailed information on specific concepts and conceptual development over time and may require use as embedded as well as summative assessment tools to provide precise enough data on curricular effectiveness. The data also report some progress in strengthening the performance of underrepresented groups in mathematics relative to their counterparts in the comparative programs (Schoen et al., 1998; Hirsch and Schoen, 2002). This reported pattern of results should be viewed as very tentative, as there are only a few studies in each of these areas, and most do not adequately control for competing factors, such as the nature of the course received in college. Difficulties in the transition may also be the result of a lack of alignment of measures, especially as placement exams often emphasize algebraic proficiencies. These results are presented only for the purpose of stimulating further evaluation efforts. They further emphasize the need to be certain that such designs examine the level of mathematical reasoning of students, particularly in relation to their knowledge of understanding of the role of proofs and definitions and their facility with algebraic manipulation as we as carefully document the competencies taught in the curricular materials. In our framework, gauging the ease of transition to college study is an issue of examining curricular alignment with systemic factors, and needs to be considered along with those tests that demonstrate a curricular validity of measures. Furthermore, the results raising concerns about college success need replication before secure conclusions are drawn. Also, it is important that subsequent evaluations also examine curricular effects on students’ interest in mathematics and willingness to persist in its study. Walker (1999) reported that there may be some systematic differences in these behaviors among different curricula and that interest and persistence may help students across a variety of subgroups to survive entry-level hurdles, especially if technical facility with symbol manipulation
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations can be improved. In the context of declines in advanced study in mathematics by American students (Hawkins, 2003), evaluation of curricular impact on students’ interest, beliefs, persistence, and success are needed. The committee takes the position that ultimately the question of the impact of different curricula on performance at the collegiate level should be resolved by whether students are adequately prepared to pursue careers in mathematical sciences, broadly defined, and to reason quantitatively about societal and technological issues. It would be a mistake to focus evaluation efforts solely or primarily on performance on entry-level courses, which can clearly function as filters and may overly emphasize procedural competence, but do not necessarily represent what concepts and skills lead to excellence and success in the field. These tentative patterns of findings indicate that at the high school level, it is necessary to conduct individual evaluations that examine the transition to college carefully in order to gauge the level of success in preparing students for college entry and the successful negotiation of majors. Equally, it is imperative to examine the impact of high school curricula on other possible student trajectories, such as obtaining high school diplomas, moving into worlds of work or through transitional programs leading to technical training, two-year colleges, and so on. These two analyses of programs by grade-level band, content strand, and equity represent a methodological innovation that could strengthen the empirical database on curricula significantly and provide the level of detail really needed by curriculum designers to improve their programs. In addition, it appears that one could characterize the NSF programs (and not the commercial programs as a group) as representing a particular approach to curriculum, as discussed in Chapter 3. It is an approach that integrates content strands; relies heavily on the use of situations, applications, and modeling; encourages the use of technology; and has a significant dose of mathematical inquiry. One could ask the question of whether this approach as a whole is “effective.” It is beyond the charge and scope of this report, but is a worthy target of investigation if one uses proper care in design, execution, and analysis. Likewise other approaches to curricular change should be investigated at the aggregate level, using careful and rigorous design. The committee believes that a diversity of curricular approaches is a strength in an educational system that maintains local and state control of curricular decision making. While “scientifically established as effective” should be an increasingly important consideration in curricular choice, local cultural differences, needs, values, and goals will also properly influence curricular choice. A diverse set of effective curricula would be ideal. Finally, the committee emphasizes once again the importance of basing the studies on measures with established curricular validity and avoiding cor-
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations ruption of indicators as a result of inappropriate amounts of teaching to the test, so as to be certain that the outcomes are the product of genuine student learning. CONCLUSIONS FROM THE COMPARATIVE STUDIES In summary, the committee reviewed a total of 95 comparative studies. There were more NSF-supported program evaluations than commercial ones, and the commercial ones were primarily on Saxon or UCSMP materials. Of the 19 curricular programs reviewed, 23 percent of the NSF-supported and 33 percent of the commercially generated materials selected had programs with no comparative reviews. This finding is particularly disturbing in light of the legislative mandate in No Child Left Behind (U.S. Department of Education, 2001) for scientifically based curricular programs and materials to be used in the schools. It suggests that more explicit protocols for the conduct of evaluation of programs that include comparative studies need to be required and utilized. Sixty-nine percent of NSF-supported and 61 percent of commercially generated program evaluations met basic conditions to be classified as at least minimally methodologically adequate studies for the evaluation of effectiveness. These studies were ones that met the criteria of including measures of student outcomes on mathematical achievement, reporting a method of establishing comparability among samples and reporting on implementation elements, disaggregating by content strand, or using precise, theoretical analyses of the construct or multiple measures. Most of these studies had both strengths and weaknesses in their quasi-experimental designs. The committee reviewed the studies and found that evaluators had developed a number of features that merit inclusions in future work. At the same time, many had internal threats to validity that suggest a need for clearer guidelines for the conduct of comparative evaluations. Many of the strengths and innovations came from the evaluators’ understanding of the program theories behind the curricula, their knowledge of the complexity of practice, and their commitment to measuring valid and significant mathematical ideas. Many of the weaknesses came from inadequate attention to experimental design, insufficient evidence of the independence of evaluators in some studies, and instability and lack of cooperation in interfacing with the conditions of everyday practice. The committee identified 10 elements of comparative studies needed to establish a basis for determining the effectiveness of a curriculum. We recognize that not all studies will be able to implement successfully all elements, and those experimental design variations will be based largely on study size and location. The list of elements begins with the seven elements
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations corresponding to the seven critical decisions and adds three additional elements that emerged as a result of our review: A better balance needs to be achieved between experimental and quasi-experimental studies. The virtual absence of large-scale experimental studies does not provide a way to determine whether the use of quasi-experimental approaches is being systematically biased in unseen ways. If a quasi-experimental design is selected, it is necessary to establish comparability. When quasi-experimentation is used, it “pertains to studies in which the model to describe effects of secondary variables is not known but assumed” (NRC, 1992, p. 18). This will lead to weaker and potentially suspect causal claims, which should be acknowledged in the evaluation report, but may be necessary in relation to feasibility (Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, 1994). In general, to date, studies have assumed prior achievement measures, ethnicity, gender, and SES, are acceptable variables on which to match samples or on which to make statistical adjustments. But there are often other variables in need of such control in such evaluations including opportunity to learn, teacher effectiveness, and implementation (see #4 below). The selection of a unit of analysis is of critical importance to the design. To the extent possible, it is useful to randomly assign the unit for the different curricula. The number of units of analysis necessary for the study to establish statistical significance depends not on the number of students, but on this unit of analysis. It appears that classrooms and schools are the most likely units of analysis. In addition, the development of increasingly sophisticated means of conducting studies that recognize that the level of the educational system in which experimentation occurs affects research designs. It is essential to examine the implementation components through a set of variables that include the extent to which the materials are implemented, teaching methods, the use of supplemental materials, professional development resources, teacher background variables, and teacher effects. Gathering these data to gauge the level of implementation fidelity is essential for evaluators to ensure adequate implementation. Studies could also include nested designs to support analysis of variation by implementation components. Outcome data should include a variety of measures of the highest quality. These measures should vary by question type (open ended, multiple choice), by type of test (international, national, local) and by relation of testing to everyday practice (formative, summative, high stakes), and ensure curricular validity of measures and assess curricular alignment with systemic factors. The use of comparisons among total tests, fair tests, and
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On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations conservative tests, as done in the evaluations of UCSMP, permits one to gain insight into teacher effects and to contrast test results by items included. Tests should also include content strands to aid disaggregation, at a level of major content strands (see Figure 5-11) and content-specific items relevant to the experimental curricula. Statistical analysis should be conducted on the appropriate unit of analysis and should include more sophisticated methods of analysis such as ANOVA, ANCOVA, MACOVA, linear regression, and multiple regression analysis as appropriate. Reports should include clear statements of the limitations to generalization of the study. These should include indications of limitations in populations sampled, sample size, unique population inclusions or exclusions, and levels of use or attrition. Data should also be disaggregated by gender, race/ethnicity, SES, and performance levels to permit readers to see comparative gains across subgroups both between and within studies. It is useful to report effect sizes. It is also useful to present item-level data across treatment program and show when performances between the two groups are within the 10 percent confidence interval of each other. These two extremes document how crucial it is for curricula developers to garner both precise and generalizable information to inform their revisions. Careful attention should also be given to the selection of samples of populations for participation. These samples should be representative of the populations to whom one wants to generalize the results. Studies should be clear if they are generalizing to groups who have already selected the materials (prior users) or to populations who might be interested in using the materials (demographically representative). The control group should use an identified comparative curriculum or curricula to avoid comparisons to unstructured instruction. In addition to these prototypical decisions to be made in the conduct of comparative studies, the committee suggests that it would be ideal for future studies to consider some of the overall effects of these curricula and to test more directly and rigorously some of the findings and alternative hypotheses. Toward this end, the committee reported the tentative findings of these studies by program type. Although these results are subject to revision, based on the potential weaknesses in design of many of the studies summarized, the form of analysis demonstrated in this chapter provides clear guidance about the kinds of knowledge claims and the level of detail that we need to be able to judge effectiveness. Until we are able to achieve an array of comparative studies that provide valid and reliable information on these issues, we will be vulnerable to decision making based excessively on opinion, limited experience, and preconceptions.
Representative terms from entire chapter: