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IES Grant

Title: A Randomized Control Trial of a Tier 2 First Grade Mathematics Intervention
Center: NCSER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Clarke, Ben Awardee: University of Oregon
Program: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2016 – 6/30/2020) Award Amount: $3,498,258
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R324A160046

Co-Principal Investigators: Doabler, Christian; Fien, Hank; Smolkowski, Keith

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to test the efficacy of a first-grade mathematics intervention called Fusion, aimed at developing understanding of whole numbers for students at risk for mathematics learning disabilities. According to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 42% of fourth graders performed at or above the proficient level in mathematics. Students who perform poorly in mathematics early in school are at risk for continuing to struggle in mathematics throughout elementary school and beyond. There was preliminary evidence that developing in-depth understanding of the whole number system can support learning of future mathematics concepts for students at risk for mathematics learning disabilities. More research was needed on the efficacy of such an approach at a large scale, as well as whether differences in intervention intensity were related to improved student outcomes. This project sought to fill this gap by studying the efficacy of the Fusion tier 2 intervention for students at risk for mathematics learning disabilities in classrooms using a response-to-intervention model.

Project Activities: The researchers tested the impact of the Fusion intervention on measures of immediate and long-term mathematics achievement using a randomized controlled trial. They also determined whether there were differential effects depending on the intensity of instruction (size of the small group instruction, with either a 2:1 or 5:1 student-teacher ratio) or student and instructor factors (e.g., initial skill level of student, teaching experience).

Key Outcomes: The main findings of this project, as reported by the principal investigator, are as follows:

  • Fusion had a positive impact on four student outcomes measures, with two of them showing statistically significant differences (ProFusion, a researcher-developed proximal measure of math performance, and Assessing Student Proficiency in Early Number Sense, a series of curriculum-based measures used for universal screening).
  • Instructional intensity (group size) had an impact on outcomes. The Fusion group with the 2:1 ratio of children to educator had more positive impacts on all student outcomes compared to the students in the 5:1 ratio group.
  • On the second-grade follow up, there were no statistically significant group differences on outcomes except for the advantage of the 2:1 ratio over the 5:1 ratio among treatment groups on a standardized measure of math ability (Test of Early Mathematics Ability).
  • Exploration of direct observation data found significant associations between positive gains in student mathematics outcomes and (a) lower rates of incorrectly answered mathematics-focused questions and (b) higher rates of interventionists delivering group-level practice opportunities and offering academic feedback. Students with lower initial mathematics performance were more likely to have higher rates of errors and lower quality of explicit instruction.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study was conducted in elementary schools in Oregon and Massachusetts.

Sample: The project involved 943 first grade students identified as at risk for mathematics learning disabilities (from 109 classrooms) and their classroom instructional assistants, who implemented the intervention.

Intervention: The Fusion intervention program was comprised of 60 lessons focused on whole number understanding, including operations, algebraic thinking, and number and operations in base 10. The high-intensity setting had a group size of two (2:1 ratio) and the low-intensity setting had a group size of five (5:1 ratio).

Research Design and Methods: The researchers used a randomized controlled trial design to compare the outcomes of students in three groups (high intensity, low intensity, and control group), blocking on classrooms to control for the influence of instructional assistant effects on student outcomes. Students were randomly assigned within classrooms to one of the two intervention groups (high or low intensity) or the control group. The unit of analysis was the instructional groups. The experimentally manipulated intensity of intervention allowed for an exploratory examination of the impact of group size. In addition to examining the immediate impacts, each cohort was assessed in the middle of second grade to determine long-term impacts of the intervention on mathematics achievement.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition received business-as-usual instruction.

Key Measures: Student outcome measures included a proximal measure of student performance using ProFusion, a measure developed by the research team, and distal measures of achievement that include the Test of Early Mathematics Ability-3, Assessing Student Proficiency in Early Number Sense, the easyCBM CCSS Math, and the Number Sets Test. Data were also collected using four surveys to document instructional assistant demographic information, perceptions of the intervention, classroom teacher demographic information, and classroom characteristics. Data were collected from logs of instruction (e.g., number of lessons taught) and the Child Behavior Rating Scale survey was used to measure teacher impressions of student social skills and self-regulation. Observations were used to document implementation fidelity of the Fusion curriculum and factors related to intensity of the intervention using several research-developed protocols.

Data Analytic Strategy: A mixed methods analysis of covariance was used to investigate the impact of the Fusion intervention on student outcomes. Multilevel models were used to adjust for the nested design of the study. The models were extended to test whether math achievement is dependent on student- or instructor-level factors (student initial skill level, experience of instructional assistants, and year of instructional assistant's participation in the intervention) or instructional intensity (group size).

Project website:

Related IES Project: Foundations of Mathematical Understanding: Developing a Strategic Intervention on Whole Number Concepts (R324A090341)

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.