Field Initiated Evaluations of Education Innovations Research Grant Program

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Johns Hopkins University Project Abstract

Name of Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Principal Investigator: Dr. Robert Balfanz
Title: Evaluation of the Computer and Team-Assisted Mathematical Acceleration (CATAMA) Lab in Urban, High-Poverty, High-Minority Middle Schools

Purpose: National and international comparisons of student achievement show that U.S. students in general, and minority and low-income students in particular, fall rapidly behind between the 4 th and the 8 th grades. Many minority children from low-income families leave middle school poorly prepared to succeed in a rigorous sequence of college preparatory math classes in high school. The purpose of this project is to judge the effect of an elective math course for middle school students who need additional assistance. At the end of the project, the results will show whether this course in one large urban district improves middle school students' mathematics achievement, and whether the course has different results depending on students' initial level of math skills.

Setting: The evaluation is being conducted in three inner-city, high-poverty, high-minority middle schools in the Philadelphia school district.

Population: The participants are low-income students in grades 5 and 8 with low standardized test scores in math.

Intervention: The Computer and Team-Assisted Mathematical Acceleration (CATAMA) is an elective middle school math course that combines computer-based instruction, peer-assisted learning, and small group and individualized tutoring. By combining instruction in math concepts as well as skills, the Lab also avoids the repetitive practice of low-level skills, which is a traditional criticism of remediation programs. The Lab is taught by a regular math teacher who is familiar with the regular math curriculum at the school and receives intensive initial training. Class size is reduced to 15-18 students, and each student attends for one trimester. Therefore, one lab operating for 5 periods per day can include about 225 students per year. A quasi-experimental study has shown evidence of promise.

Research Design and Methods: The study is a randomized controlled trial in three middle schools. Students in grades 5 and 8 whose previous year's district standardized math test score identifies them as behind-grade in math are randomly assigned to the Lab or non-Lab group. Students in the Lab (treatment) group take the Lab for one grading period during the school year. This process will be repeated in year 2 with new students entering grades 5 and 8. Over the two years, the sample will consist of 300 Lab Students per school (150 in grade 5 and 150 in grade 8) and an equal number of control students, for a total of 900 treatment and 900 control students.

An implementation study is being conducted using observational protocols to measure fidelity of implementation at each school and within each Lab class. For Year 3, when Johns Hopkins ends Lab support, the study will examine the sustainability of the Labs by tracking whether implementation declines.

Control Condition: Students assigned to the non-Lab (control) group attend another elective in place of the Lab.

Key Measures: In the spring of their first year in the study, students will take both the district and state math assessments that will serve as their post-test. Year 1 fifth grade students' math achievement can be tracked through the sixth grade to see if there is a longer-term effect of the Lab.

Classroom observation data on fidelity of implementation will be collected on a weekly basis.

Data Analytic Strategy: The analytic strategy uses regression analysis to examine whether CATAMA can effectively enhance underperforming students' math achievement. The short-term (one-year) analyses will analyze data for students in grades 5 and 8. The fifth grade students in Year 1 of the study will be followed to test for longer-term gains. The analytic strategy will attempt to tease apart whether any effects of the lab are due to additional instructional time from the Lab, the content of the material, or both. Also, the analysis will investigate differential impacts for students with differing levels of initial math underachievement.

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Last Modified: 10/03/2005