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Study Links Tech to Algebra Achievement

A summary of findings from a four-year study released Thursday concludes that Algebra I teachers who were trained in and used a program that allowed them to monitor students' progress on graphing calculators led to significantly improved achievement by their students on a researcher-designed test.

The study, part of Ohio State's Classroom Connectivity in Mathematics and Science research project, illustrates a direct link between the implementation of classroom technology and professional development with academic achievement, say the summary's authors. The research, conducted from 2005 to 2009, was funded by the Institute of Education Sciences and the U.S. Department of Education. Texas Instruments supplied classes with the TI-Navigator program, which allows instructors to view students' work in real time and offer feedback.

"There's details that we don't quite understand about how teachers did it," said Jeremy Roschelle, the director for the Center for Technology in Learning at nonprofit research firm SRI International, and a consultant on the study. "But there's so much noise out there [about technology] and so few studies out there that have significant results, that it's very important when one of these comes out."

Roschelle's comments indicating a dearth of research surrounding education technology echo those by other experts in the field. Even Karen Cator, the U.S. Department of Education's ed-tech chief, has stressed the need for more thorough research as one of the major pillars of the National Education Technology Plan released this past spring.

The study included 127 teachers from 28 states and two Canadian provinces in its first year. Roughly half of the 1,760 students enrolled were placed in a treatment group where their teachers received a week of training in the TI-Navigator system before the year began, as well as continuing professional development. The other half were placed in a control group where teachers received neither the program nor the training.

Of the more than 1,200 students who yielded dependable data, those in the treatment group tested about 10 percent better, on average, on an exam created to reflect Algebra I standards in 13 states that accounted for the majority of students studied.

In subsequent years, teachers who taught in the control group the year before were placed into the treatment group, and compared not only against the control group of that year, but also against their own results as the control group the year before. In all but one year, students in the treatment group continued to make statistically significant gains against the control group from that year. Gains by teachers in the treatment group who were part of the control group in a previous year were also consistent.

Through qualitative analysis, researchers also found that teachers using the technology engaged in deeper and more conceptual discussions with their students about math principals than teachers who were not using the technology.

Lead researcher Doug Owens cautioned that the reasons behind the increase in achievement on the test were not completely understood, and that not all of the data had been analyzed. He also stressed that the results should be looked at as linking the combination of technology and professional development to increased achievement, rather than taking either the technology or the professional development by itself as causal factors.

"We consider the treatment to be all of those things," said Owens, a professor of education at Ohio State. "We have no ways to sort those out."

For more information on the study, check out this video.

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