Southern Methodist University and the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development received a grant award from the National Science Foundation for over $2.5 million to conduct research and develop an assessment system comprised of two universal screening tools for grades K – 2. Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller, professor and Texas Instruments Endowed Chair, and Dr. Lindsey Perry, researcher and Simmons School 2016 Ph.D. graduate, are the Principal Investigator and Co-Principal Investigator, respectively. The four-year project (award number 172110), Measuring Early Mathematical Reasoning Skills: Developing Tests of Numeric Relational Reasoning and Spatial Reasoning, with an anticipated start date of September 15, 2017, employs an iterative research design for developing assessments, a process that Dr. Ketterlin-Geller has devoted much of her 20-year career to. “This is an opportunity to develop an assessment system can help teachers support students at the earliest, and arguably one of the most critical, phases of a child’s mathematical development. Few assessments are available to measure these critical concepts, and yet providing teachers with data to understand how a child processes these concepts can have a long-term impact on their success not only in advanced math like Algebra, but also success in STEM fields, such as chemistry, biology, geology and engineering.”
Critical to Early Learning, Long-term Impact
Despite increased commitments in the U.S. to improve achievement in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), students remain at a disadvantage all the way through high school and even entering college. Only 41 percent of students are prepared for college-level mathematics (ACT, 2016), and this clearly filters down to the elementary grades. According to the 2015 Mathematics National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) report, only 40 percent of fourth-grade students in the U.S. were classified as proficient or advanced, and these numbers have not improved between 2009 and 2015. In fact, the Geometry scale of the fourth-grade mathematics NAEP were significantly lower in 2015 than in 2009.
According to one study, early mathematics is a better and more powerful predictor of future learning, including reading and mathematics achievement, compared to early reading ability or other factors such as attention skills (Duncan et al., 2007). What’s more is that students’ early mathematics knowledge is a more powerful predictor of their future socioeconomic status (SES) at age 42 than their family’s SES as children (Ritchie & Bates, 2013). While early mathematics comprises numerous skills, number sense, the ability to work with numbers flexibly (Gersten & Chard, 1999), and spatial sense, the ability to understand the complexity of one’s environment (Clements, 1998) are consistently identified as two of the main components that should be emphasized in early mathematics standards and instruction (Clements, 2004; NCTM, 2000; National Research Council [NRC], 2001, 2009).
Dr. Perry graduated from the Simmons School doctoral program in 2016, writing and presenting her dissertation specifically on these two mathematical constructs. “I’m passionate about this research because students who can reason spatially and relationally with numbers are better equipped for future mathematics courses, STEM degrees, and STEM careers. While these are very foundational and predictive constructs, these reasoning skills have typically not been emphasized at these grade levels, and universal screening tools focused on these topics do not yet exist. Since intervention in preschool and the early elementary grades can significantly improve mathematics achievement, it is critical that K-2 teachers have access to high-quality screening tools to help them with their intervention efforts. We feel that the Measures of Mathematical Reasoning Skills system can really make a difference for K-2 teachers as they prepare the next generation of STEM leaders.”
Universal screeners are assessments that are quick to administer for teachers and students, yet can provide significant insight into where a student is in there learning. Universal screeners allow teachers to identify students who are struggling or at-risk for struggling with a set of concepts and the level of intensity of support students need in order to be successful. Screeners are typically administered three times per year to monitor students’ progress.
Teachers should be able to collect reliable data about critical and predictive mathematical constructs in order to make valid and informed decisions about their students and their instruction. And that’s the ultimate goal of this project. Dr. Ketterlin Geller says, “Our work historically has been in support of teachers and leaders at the school and district levels. The difference is made in the classroom, and data from formative assessments such as these can provide teachers with meaningful information to guide their instruction. By helping teachers identify students who may be struggling early in the learning process, they can target their intervention efforts to support these students’ needs. Our intention is this early intervention will prevent later difficulties so students are on track for successful learning experiences in mathematics and beyond.”
Dr. Ketterlin-Geller is a professor, Texas Instruments Endowed Chair, and director of the Research in Mathematics Education Unit at SMU. She has served as principal investigator for numerous funded projects to design formative and summative assessment systems in mathematics, as well as instructional interventions to support students who are struggling. She is the lead developer for a system of algebra-readiness universal screeners and diagnostic assessments for all Texas public school children in grades 2-8. She has published articles and book chapters and has presented original research findings at local, national, and international conferences.
Dr. Perry is a former elementary and middle-school mathematics teacher and also worked at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as a mathematics assessment specialist and as Assistant Director of Mathematics. She began collaborating with Dr. Ketterlin Geller on statewide assessment initiatives while at TEA and joined the doctoral program at the Simmons School in 2011. Dr. Perry assisted in the development of the Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) Relational Reasoning and Spatial Reasoning measures, an international assessment, examining the validity of the interpretations for her dissertation research. She is currently a STEM Research & Assessment Coordinator at the Research in Mathematics Education unit.
Research in Mathematics Education (RME) at Southern Methodist University was established in 2011 with an infrastructure grant from the Meadows Foundation. RME’s mission is to conduct high-quality research in mathematics education, to cultivate positive change by educating teachers and administrators about evidence-based practices and systems, and to support mathematics achievement through academic growth and development of all students. Under the direction of Dr. Leanne Ketterlin-Geller, research funding has grown to over $11M in just five years, and the unit has directly and indirectly impacted over 850 Texas school districts, more than 310,000 Texas teachers, and nearly 1 million students in Texas elementary and middle schools.