Sawilowsky examines factors at the root of algebra program’s effectiveness

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Evaluation seeks to help identify patterns for improving student performance in math

Shlomo Sawilowsky, Ph.D., professor of educational evaluation and research, is using his expertise in program evaluation to evaluate a project by Algebra Nation in Michigan. He received an $11,000 grant to assess the program’s impact on student achievement. Results of Sawilowky’s examination will help the organization evaluate the tool’s effectiveness and potentially improve program design, delivery and implementation. It will aid Algebra Nation in determining teacher and student usage patterns, leading to maximizing student performance gains on PSAT math scores.

A state-funded resource, the mathematics teaching and learning platform provides students, families, schools and districts with free access to high-quality web- and mobile-based educational materials aligned to Michigan’s standards. Used by hundreds of Michigan school districts as both a supplemental and/or core curriculum, Algebra Nation offers a comprehensive digital textbook for sixth through eighth grade math, algebra and geometry courses and materials for PSAT and SAT preparation. The platform includes an extensive video library of more than 5,000 engaging instructional videos led by dynamic, virtual co-teachers — referred to as “Study Experts”— who use a variety of teaching strategies to meet the needs of Michigan’s diverse learners. To accommodate the needs of Spanish-speaking students, all Algebra 1 videos have also been filmed in Spanish. Students can download and print workbook pages from the website, post questions on the Michigan Algebra Wall, and obtain help from their peers and Algebra Nation study experts. Students also have the flexibility to work on their coursework any time of the day.

By reducing the extreme resource disparities that exist between low- and high-income school districts, Algebra Nation seeks to combat Michigan high school students’ comparatively low math achievement. In spring 2016, for example, 67% of eighth grade students in Michigan failed to earn at least a “Proficient” score on the state’s M-STEP Mathematics exam, while 63% of eleventh graders didn’t score high enough on the state’s MME exam to be considered ready for success in college or a career.

Algebra Nation has been successful in improving student achievement in math in Florida, where the tool was adopted statewide in 2013. In 2014-15, high school students who used Algebra Nation demonstrated a 10% higher pass rate on the Florida Algebra 1 end-of-course exam than students who did not use the platform. In addition, test scores improved dramatically for all Algebra Nation users.

Similarly, Sawilowsky noted, “The results in the pilot year in Michigan with over 700 students were a large effect size in terms of improvement as compared with students without access to Algebra Nation resources. This was true for both students at high schools requiring and not requiring testing for admittance. I am pleased to support Algebra Nation’s efforts by conducting this evaluation of a program designed to enhance Michigan’s mathematics teachers’ curricular repertoire, and subsequently the achievements of their students.”

For more information about Algebra Nation, visit algebranation.com/mi.