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Does an Algebra Course with Tutoring Software Improve Student Learning?

Abstract

"Student performance in mathematics remains a source of concern for U.S. educators and policymakers. Although math scores have risen slightly in recent decades, U.S. students still perform poorly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and in international comparisons with their counterparts from many other countries. In an effort to address this issue, many districts and schools have turned to computer-based tools as a way to boost math performance. These tools allow self-paced instruction and provide students with customized feedback. These features, it is widely held, will improve student engagement and improve proficiency. However, evidence to support these claims remains scarce. In many cases, these tools have been adopted with little or no evaluation.

To make headway in addressing this knowledge gap, a team of RAND researchers assessed whether a popular algebra curriculum that includes tutoring software would be effective in improving the math test scores of middle and high school students. Cognitive Tutor Algebra I (or CTAI), developed by Carnegie Learning, is a first-year algebra course that blends classroom instruction and textbook-based activities with computer-based instruction and has shown efficacy in improving math performance in isolated, small-scale demonstrations. Algebra is of particular interest because it can function as a gateway subject that leads students to take higher-level math classes. The RAND assessment, one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of its kind to date, used a randomized controlled trial to estimate the effectiveness of CTAI in improving algebra proficiency in a variety of natural school settings, in conditions similar to those of schools that independently adopt it."

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