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$2.5 million NSF grant gives teachers a math assessment tool to help students

New assessment tool for teachers to measure math reasoning skills can drive effort to intervene early in ongoing struggles of U.S. elementary and high school students

A $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to researchers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, targets the ongoing struggle of U.S. elementary and high school students with math.

When it comes to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math, research shows that U.S. students continue at a disadvantage all the way through high school and entering college.

The four-year NSF grant to the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development is led by SMU K-12 math education experts Leanne Ketterlin Geller and Lindsey Perry. They will conduct research and develop an assessment system comprised of two universal screening tools to measure mathematical reasoning skills for grades K–2.

“This is an opportunity to develop an assessment system that can help teachers support students at the earliest, and arguably one of the most critical, phases of a child’s mathematical development,” said Ketterlin Geller, a professor in the Simmons School and principal investigator for the grant developing the “Measures of Mathematical Reasoning Skills” system.

Teachers and schools will use the assessment system to screen students and determine who is at risk for difficulty in early mathematics, including students with disabilities. The measures also will help provide important information about the intensity of support needed for a given student.

Few assessments are currently available to measure the critical math concepts taught during those early school years, Ketterlin Geller said.

“Providing teachers with data to understand how a child processes these concepts can have a long-term impact on students’ success not only in advanced math like algebra, but also success in STEM fields, such as chemistry, biology, geology and engineering,” she said.

Early math a better predictor of future learning
A 2015 Mathematics National Assessment of Education Progress report found that only 40 percent of U.S. fourth-grade students were classified as proficient or advanced, and those numbers have not improved between 2009 and 2015. In fact, the geometry scale of the fourth-grade mathematics report was significantly lower in 2015 than in 2009.

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, according to one 2007 study on school readiness.

Research also has found that students’ early mathematics knowledge is a more powerful predictor of their future socioeconomic status at age 42 than their family’s socioeconomic status as children.

Early mathematics comprises numerous skills. However, number sense — the ability to work with numbers flexibly — in addition to spatial sense — the ability to understand the complexity of one’s environment — are consistently identified as two of the main components that should be emphasized in early mathematics standards and instruction, say the SMU researchers.

The Measures of Mathematical Reasoning Skills system will contain tests for both numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning.

Universal screening tools focused on these topics do not yet exist
“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,” said Perry, whose doctoral dissertation for her Ph.D. from SMU in 2016 specifically focused on those two mathematical constructs.

“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,” said Perry, who is co-principal investigator.

“Since intervention in 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,” she said. “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.”

The four-year project, Measuring Early Mathematical Reasoning Skills: Developing Tests of Numeric Relational Reasoning and Spatial Reasoning, started Sept. 15, 2017. It employs an iterative research design for developing formative assessments, a process that Ketterlin Geller has devoted much of her 20-year career to.

Ketterlin Geller is Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Education and director of Research in Mathematics Education in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. She is also a Fellow with the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education in the Lyle School of Engineering.

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Jamaica Observer: Parents targeted under pilot project to improve math scores

The Jamaica Observer covered the research of SMU’s Leanne Ketterlin Geller, professor in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development, and her team from Research in Mathematics Education.

Ketterlin Geller is director of Research in Mathematics Education and director of K-12 STEM Initiatives, Caruth Institute for Engineering Education.

Research in Mathematics Education is partnering with the Jamaican Ministry of Education and the Inter-American Development Bank to implement a pilot program aimed at supporting parents’ involvement in math education at home.

The goal of is to improve outcomes for children in the earliest grades and to drive activities that incorporate math into everyday family life, fostering confidence and knowledge that carries forward into the classroom.

Ketterlin Geller’s research and scholarship focus on supporting students in mathematics education through application of instructional leadership principles and practices. She has served as Principal Investigator for federally and locally funded research grants emphasizing the development of formative assessment procedures in mathematics and valid decision-making systems for students with diverse needs in the general education curriculum.

The Jamaica Observer article published Sept. 24, 2015.

Read the full article, “Parents targeted under pilot project to improve math scores.”


Jamaica Observer

The Ministry of Education yesterday launched a pilot project to determine how mathematics training for parents can improve the performance of students in grades one and two.

The two-year project will be administered in May Pen and surrounding communities in Clarendon and will impact some 1,600 households. Training for parents will be carried out through partnership with researchers from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

This initiative, being undertaken through support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Embassy of Japan, aims to ramp up teaching and learning outcomes in mathematics, said Education Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites at the launch held at his Heroes Circle office.

The expectation is that the initiative will enable the country to achieve the target of 85 per cent mastery of numeracy in the Grade Four Numeracy Test. The target date has pushed back from 2015 to 2018. This year, students achieved 65.7 per cent mastery in numeracy, which is an 8.1 per cent increase over last year.

“We welcome the project. Parents are a critical group whose buy-in is essential to the attitudes children adopt towards the learning of mathematics. We believe that if parents lose their phobia and ignorance of mathematics, they are likely to encourage their children to do the subject and assist them in doing their schoolwork,” Rev Thwaites noted.

The project is to determine what mode of engagement works best for the mentoring of the parents towards improvement in the teaching and learning of mathematics for students.

Coaches and trainers will be identified to work with parents, who will be drawn from beneficiaries of the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education.

Read the full article, “Parents targeted under pilot project to improve math scores.”

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Landmark education research aims to prepare nation’s middle school students for high school


David Chard, Dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development, and two leading SMU faculty investigators, Reid Lyon and Leanne Ketterlin-Geller, are part of the national research team working on the George W. Bush Institute‘s newest education initiative, Middle School Matters.

The program focuses on using proven practices to prepare middle school students to successfully enter high school. Former first lady Mrs. Laura W. Bush announced the program at Stovall Middle School of the Aldine Independent School District in Houston.

“Middle school is the last and best chance to prepare students for a successful high school career,” said Mrs. Bush in announcing the program. “Research shows with systematic, intensive interventions that students who started middle school behind can catch up.”

Nearly one-third of America’s young people fail to graduate from high school in four years.

“Leaders and teachers in middle schools across the country are looking for strategies and practices that will help their students prepare to be successful in high school and beyond,” said Chard. “Middle School Matters is a bold attempt to identify the strategies and practices supported by strong research to ensure that all middle schools are effective.”

Middle School Matters is the most comprehensive research-based program to be applied to middle schools. The Institute has partnered with the nation’s top researchers to integrate, for the first time, proven practices that yield significant advances in middle school student achievement and readiness for high school. Implemented as a total package, Middle School Matters provides the proven mix of interventions to guarantee success.

Researchers developing Middle School Matters have identified 11 elements as critical for middle school success. These elements include concepts such as “school leadership” and “reading and reading interventions.” Middle School Matters incorporates key benchmarks, such as the ability to read for learning, write to communicate and perform complex math equations at grade level. Under each of the 11 elements, a research team convened by the Bush Institute prescribes 5-8 data-driven specifications that include practical examples of how to best implement the research in the classroom.

“At the Bush Institute, we think big, work together, and get results,” said James K. Glassman, executive director of the Bush Institute. “Middle School Matters will dramatically transform our partner middle schools and create an environment where students enter high school ready to do the work.”

Middle School Matters will be implemented in three phases. The program is currently in Phase One, which includes building the platform and ensuring that all components work together cohesively. Phase Two will pilot the program in 10-15 schools. Each pilot school will undergo a tailored needs assessment and will be matched with a support team to assist in the implementation of the Middle School Matters specifications over two years.

Phase Three will evaluate the pilot programs and scale the initiative to engage more schools.

Initial funding for Middle School Matters has been generously provided by a $500,000 donation from the Meadows Foundation.

“The Meadows Foundation has long believed that middle school is a critical transition period for young people and we must provide special attention to these students to ensure their academic success,” said Linda Evans, president and CEO of the the Meadows Foundation. “We applaud the Bush Institute for taking the lead to develop effective strategies to improve middle school students’ outcomes and appreciate the opportunity to partner with them to focus on this effort.”

Other collaborators include America’s Promise, Civic Enterprises, Southern Regional Education Board, Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas, Dallas, and Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

“America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University are excited about partnering with the Bush Institute,” said John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises. “Middle School Matters is addressing a very critical part of the pipeline in helping students stay in school and be successful once they leave. The Institute’s focus on research-based strategies is an excellent one
and we look forward to working in tandem with this initiative.”

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.