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ASSISTments Efficacy & Replication Studies

SRI conducted an efficacy study of more than 2,500 students on the benefits of online homework support for students’ mathematics learning

Homework is important, but traditional ways of doing homework in isolation do not support students who need more help. Technology has the potential to change homework into a better learning experience. Students can receive instant feedback, online tutorials, and specially organized “practice makes perfect” sessions. In addition, teachers can receive useful reports on their students’ homework completion status and indications of their problem areas. Through professional development, teachers can learn how to use online homework and these reports to differentiate instruction to meet students’ individual needs.

Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education, SRI Education conducted an efficacy study on the benefits of online homework support for students’ mathematics learning. The 4-year study was conducted in collaboration with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the University of Maine at Orono. Launched in April 2012, the study involved approximately 2,500 seventh grade students from 52 schools in the state of Maine. The goal was to understand the impact of the ASSISTments online homework support on student achievement, classroom implementation, and teacher practice.

This study was the first gold standard-quality study in the United States on the use of online homework in middle school mathematics learning. Maine was selected because of its exceptional laptop program and its focus on improving mathematics achievement. SRI measured the benefit to students’ mathematics achievement from online homework, looking at improvement both on required state tests and against national benchmarks. We sought to understand if all students benefitted from online learning, or if online learning worked best for a specific set of students. We also wanted to understand what were the best ways that teachers could use homework to benefit students the most.

This study found a statistically significant, positive impact of ASSISTments on students’ mathematics achievement, and the impact is stronger for lower-performing students versus higher-performing students, thus narrowing the achievement gap. Although evidence showed that teachers used the intervention to target instruction to students’ needs, the mediating role of this practice was unclear.

SRI is currently a subcontractor to WestED on a 4-year replication of the ASSISTments efficacy study in the North Carolina public schools to generate additional evidence, funded by IES and in collaboration with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the North Carolina State University. This new study involved 63 public schools in North Carolina with approximately 4,000 students enrolled in seventh grade mathematics. North Carolina was chosen because its diverse demographics closely match national demographics and could be examined for its different impacts of traditional achievement gaps among students. This study was conducted with a typical professional development approach (with training of local coaches) rather than the centralized approach used in Maine (professional development by one expert coach). Implementation was completed at the end of spring 2020, and the researchers are analyzing the impact of ASSISTments on students’ mathematics achievement.

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