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Rocketship Math Scores Rise With Software Use, Study Says

A study released Tuesday shows students from Rocketship Education's elementary schools performed better on standardized tests when they received the structured, online supplemental math instruction Rocketship offers during their school day.

The report, authored by research firm SRI International's Center for Education Policy, found that kindergartners and 1st graders exposed to 20 to 40 minutes of daily online mathematics instruction using adaptive software scored an average of about 5.5 percentile points higher on the Northwest Evaluation Association's mathematics exams than students not exposed to the supplemental instruction.

The study involved nearly the entire kindergarten and 1st grade student body of the three schools. While students who used the DreamBox Learning Inc. software in the study—four-fifths of the students, in all—were termed to be in the "treatment" group, their experiences represented a typical day at a Rocketship Education school, said Aylon Samouha, the hybrid charter school group's chief schools officer. The remaining fifth of students, the control group, were actually removed from DreamBox activities they normally would have been doing in favor of other activities, he said.

And while the researchers write that "we cannot isolate the effect of DreamBox from the effect of additional instructional time," Samouha said he was pleased to see any effect from a study that measured only 70 days of instruction.

"To have an intervention that really amounts to about 17 hours, and to have any statistically significant results is really, really encouraging," Samouha said. "What this study tells us is time on task with online software, when done right, works."

DreamBox CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson also serves on the board of directors at Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.

Rocketship Education runs three charter elementary schools in San Jose, Calif., and is frequently pointed to by online-learning advocates as an example of the potential of hybrid or blended learning, in which schools incorporate a combination of online and face-to-face instruction.

At Rocketship, and at a growing number of other hybrid schools, the online component is structured into the school day. At more traditional brick-and-mortar schools, teachers and other educators are being asked to structure online elements into individual classes, and in some cases, students in middle and upper grades are taking online courses to supplement face-to-face course offerings.

But there is so far a dearth of reliable research to validate that approach. Much of the previous research on blended learning has been found to have design flaws or a high potential for bias, according to a meta-analysis released by the Center for Education Policy last year. And while that meta-analysis did find that blended learning appeared to be more effective than either online or face-to-face learning by itself, there were very few studies used for the meta-analysis that examined K-12 education, which can offer its own unique challenges.

"Across a wide range of age groups, I believe five studies were found for K-12," Marianne Bakia, one of the meta-analysis authors, said about the difficulty of finding research to analyze. "Most of the studies found were for higher education and were kind of dominated by medical-school practices."

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