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Study: Struggling Math Students Gain Using Personalized, Blended Program

By guest blogger Michelle R. Davis

Middle school students participating in a personalized, blended-learning math program showed increased gains in math skills—up to nearly 50 percent higher in some cases—over the national average, according to a new study from Teachers College, Columbia University.

The study also found that students who started in the lowest-achieving group had the most significant gains in math skills over the school year after using Teach to One: Math, developed by the non-profit New Classrooms Innovation Partners. The program employs a computer algorithm to deliver individualized lessons to students daily and provides a personalized instruction schedule for teachers. Teach to One: Math combines teacher-led instruction, small-group collaboration, digital lessons and virtual tutoring and was inspired by New York City's School of One, which focuses on personalized instruction for middle school students.

The study, released Thursday, examined about 6,000 students' test scores on the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, assessment in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. The schools in the study were in large, urban areas including New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Some of the schools used the program for two years and some for only one.

During the 2012-13 school year, students using Teach to One: Math gained math skills at a rate about 15 percent higher than the national average. In the second year of the program's implementation students made gains of about 47 percent above national norms, even though some of those students were still in their first year of using Teach to One: Math.

Study author Douglas D. Ready, an associate professor of education and public policy at Teachers College, said he attributed that increase to improvements Teach to One: Math made over time, refining delivery of the program. "They are continually fine-tuning the algorithm based on what the kids are doing," he said.

Christopher Rush, the co-founder and chief program officer of New Classrooms Innovations Partners, said in the second year the company decided to widen the math levels offered to middle school students. Previously the program offered curriculum that included 4th and 5th grade math, but schools reported that some students' math skills lagged even further. Curriculum now goes down to 2nd grade, Rush said.

Students using Teach to One: Math generally started with math skills significantly behind national norms. The report found that students with the lowest level of math skills—more than half of the students studied—had some of the highest gains. In 2012-13 the lowest-achieving group using the program gained 37 percent more than low-achieving students nationally; in 2013-14 that number rose to about 81 percent higher than national norms for that group.

However, improvements were less dramatic for higher-achieving students. The first year of the study, the highest-achieving students gained math skills at a lower rate than the national norm—only 74 percent. By the second year, the students in that category improved about the same amount as the comparison group.

Ready cautioned that the data in the study did not allow him to conclude definitively that Teach to One: Math caused the skills improvements. However, New Classrooms Innovation Partners plans a more definitive trial over the coming two years in the Elizabeth, N.J. public schools, Rush said. New Classrooms, in partnership with the Elizabeth district, received a $3 million federal Investing in Innovation Fund grant to do that work.  

The Teach to One: Math program was developed by New Classrooms co-founders Rush and Joel Rose. The two men were also behind the creation of the New York City district's School of One middle school adaptive learning program and left the district to start the math program and spread it to other districts.

Rush said he was encouraged by the findings of the recent study, particularly the improvements from year to year. They showed "a lot more consistency and that's exciting," he said. "That means as we sign up additional schools, confidence in what we're doing becomes higher and higher."

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