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NSF research shows High School Math Cohorts promising

In National Science Foundation supported research conducted from 2009-2013, the Algebra Project studied a cohort model designed to “harness the peer culture” and accelerate mathematics learning for students who enter high school performing in the lowest quartile on the math portion of state tests.  At six high schools, cohorts of ~20 students took math together with the same teacher for Grades 9-12. They used rigorous materials designed by mathematicians and teachers to engage low performing students through a unique pedagogy, and enable them to graduate on time ready to take college math courses for credit. The project’s classroom materials are designed to engage students who have experienced academic failure, who enter Grade 9 with conceptual foundations different from those of average- to high-performing students. The materials and pedagogy build cognitive and noncognitive skills together. Research included (a) preliminary studies at Edison High School, “little Haiti”, Miami; and (b) a multi-site study of cohorts implemented “from scratch” in five demographically different high schools in Ypsilanti, MI; Mansfield OH; Eldorado, rural Illinois; and Los Angeles. Nearly all students performed BELOW “proficient” in math on the Grade 8 state test.

Increased, On-Time High School Graduation: In 4 of 5 schools in the multi-site study, Cohort students had 4-year graduation rates (federal formula) above 70% (from 71-80%). In 3 schools, graduation rates were 11-32% higher than the non-project students, matched for race, gender, math proficiency and language status. At the 4th school, rates were similar (~75%).   But this Cohort comprised the lowest performing students in a class of 97, so they appear to have “caught up” with their peers. At the 5th school, graduation rates were similar and low: 43% (Algebra Project) versus 41%. But here the Cohort kept changing — only 7 students were present for 3-4 years. Five graduated, approximating the <70% rates of the other Cohorts.

Growth in Mathematics Proficiency: (a) Concept of Function: Mathematicians Ed Dubinsky (FIU) and Robin Wilson (CSU/Pomona) studied Algebra Project Cohort students’ development of the function concept at three schools. Cohort students acquired the concept at a level similar to college students (Dubinsky & Wilson, 2013). (b) Proficiency on State Tests in Ohio: At Mansfield Senior High School, the Algebra Project and nonAlgebra Project students entered Grade 9 averaging the same math proficiency: in both groups only 17% were < “proficient”. Cohort student’s proficiency rose from 17% in Grade 8 to 82% in Grade 10, and averaged 30.2 points (+ 2) compared with only 19.3 (+ 2) points for all noncohort students, and 20.6 (+ 2) points for a noncohort sample matched on race, gender and Grade 8 top score.

For a downloadable PDF of this final outcomes report, please click here.

For an abstract of the Algebra Project’s NSF award #0822175, please click here.


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