Effective Programs in Middle and High School Mathematics: A Best-Evidence Synthesis

Best Evidence

What the resource is:
The resource is a review of the findings from various research projects mainly run in US middle and high schools which were concerned with achievement outcomes in mathematics. To be considered for the review, the program* studies had to satisfy certain criteria. The criteria consisted of the requirement that the program was sustained and ran for a period of at least 12 weeks, used a randomised or matched control group and had equality at pre-test.

The paper categorises the research in terms of three types of program; those which had a mathematics curricula focus (principally textbooks), those involving computer assisted instruction, and thirdly instructional process programs. The latter category included more diverse studies of programs which involved an element of professional development for teachers.

The studies could come from any country but had to be written in English, and were discounted if the focus was on variables such as single sex classrooms, ability groupings, block scheduling. In all, there were 102 studies which qualified and their outcomes are analysed in the paper.

The resource complements an earlier piece of work by the authors (Slavin & Lake in 2008) which reviewed elementary mathematics programs.


The aims of the resource:
The aim of the paper is to produce  a comprehensive and systematic review of the evidence relating to alternative mathematics programs which have been tried and tested in mathematics classrooms across middle and high schools. The rationale is to provide some answers to the problem of which are the best tools; textbooks, software, technology, and professional development programs to bring about improvements across US schools.

Key findings or focus:
The focus of the review is framed in terms of the concerns in the US of educators and policy makers on the mathematical performance of students in middle and high schools across the US. Performance in international studies such as TIMSS and PISA are of importance, and in the authors' views, although not disastrous, could be improved. However, the paper argues that a far greater problem for the US is the differences internally in the country, in particular differences between white middle class children and that of minority and disadvantaged children. 

The paper sets out to use a systematic, consistent methodological approach to analysing the existing research available, to look for solutions to narrowing the gap in performance between the different groups. It sets out to investigate which are the most effective textbooks, ICT applications and teaching strategies. It notes that one important finding of this review of research is the small number of large high quality studies which could be included. The reviewers attempt to take account of the different factors, balancing methodological quality (favouring randomised experiments), effect size, and larger samples by using a rating system. The categories used are Strong Moderate and Insufficient Evidence of Effectiveness and No Qualifying Studies.

Significantly, only two programs were found to satisfy the Strong Evidence of Effectiveness Category, both of which were instructional programs concerned with cooperative learning. The paper concludes by stating that, in terms of measures of outcome such as standardised tests, curriculum differences are less significant than instructional differences. The writers summarise that it is not the choice of textbook which will bring about improvements, but a shift fundamentally in what teachers and students do in their classrooms. This, they say, is not about choosing one of the three types of approaches to mathematics teaching over the other two, as, by combining and supplementing cooperative learning with a textbook and suitable ICT, the impact can be cumulative.


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource in relation to ITE:
This is a credible and thoughtful review of the research. The paper is thorough and rigorous, the authors have used a sound and justified rationale for their methodology, and are explicit in the systematic way in which evidence has been considered. Although US-based, the general findings are of interest and relevance to mathematics educators in the UK.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact:
The review makes some interesting points about the impact of different types of mathematics teaching programs. Of particular interest to ITE tutors and students would be the strong evidence to suggest that cooperative learning strategies are most effective in impacting positively on learning in mathematics classrooms. The findings would be of interest to ITE tutors as research in the area of what supports effective mathematical learning, and may challenge the usual focus on curriculum content.


The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
The research is important for ITE students not only in terms of its findings summarised above with regard to effective mathematics teaching, but also in terms of the methodological approaches taken by the reviewers. ITE students need to be aware of the techniques used in this type of meta-research. But the detail provided about the individual programs also allows for greater consideration and critique of individual research projects.


* NB: ‘program' is used throughout this review, to reflect the American spelling within the resource.


Reviewed by:

Sue Cronin


Slavin, R.E. & Lake, C. (2008) Effective programs for elementary school mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, Vol 78 (3)

Authors :

Robert E. Slavin, Cynthia Lake & Cynthia Groff

Source :


Publisher :

Best Evidence Encyclopedia

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