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IES Grant

Title: Developing Connections Between Word Problems and Mathematical Equations to Promote Word-Problem Performance Among Students with Mathematics Difficulty
Center: NCSER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Powell, Sarah Awardee: University of Texas, Austin
Program: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $3,013,726
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R324A150078

Long-Term Follow-Up Award: 3 Years (FY 2020–FY 2022), $544,235

Purpose: The purpose of this efficacy study is to assess whether equation-solving instruction, conducted within the context of word-problem tutoring, leads to improved word-problem solving outcomes. Word-problem proficiency is necessary to demonstrate successful mathematics performance. Many students, however, are inadequately prepared to solve word problems, and this is especially true for students with or at risk for mathematics difficulty (MD). Students with or at risk for MD demonstrate significantly lower word-problem performance and make significantly more errors when solving word problems than peers without MD. Given the importance of word-problem competency and the need to enhance this skill in students with MD, there is a critical need to determine the efficacy of word-problem interventions for students with MD.

Project Activities: During each of the first 3 years of the project, the researchers will recruit 150 MD students and randomly assign them to one of three conditions—two competing word-problem tutoring programs (with and without equation-solving instruction) or business-as-usual comparison. Tutoring will take place in each of the first 3 years along with fall and spring measurement and data collection. Maintenance testing will occur during the second year for Year 1 students and during the third year for Year 2 students. The final year of the project involves maintenance testing on the Year 3 students as well as dissemination activities.

Products:  The products of this project will include evidence of the efficacy of an intervention for improving equation solving and word-problem performance for low-performing and at-risk learners. Other products will include conference presentations and scholarly journal publications

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in elementary schools in an urban area of Texas.

Sample: The study sample will include third-grade students with or at risk for mathematics difficulty, as determined by those who score below the 15th percentile on two word-problem measures. There will be 150 students recruited each year for 3 years, for a total of 450 students in the study.

Research Design and Methods: This study is a randomized controlled efficacy trial in which students with MD are assigned to two competing word-problem tutoring programs or a business-as-usual condition. The two treatment conditions include word-problem tutoring without equation-solving instruction and word-problem tutoring with equation-solving instruction. By comparing these conditions, the project aims to determine whether improvements in equation solving can promote superior word-problem performance. The study will assess the role of equation solving as a mediator of word-problem performance. In addition, the research team will investigate the role of moderators, including reading skill, listening ability, verbal comprehension, and cognition. Fidelity of implementation will be assessed using an observational checklist in the two active tutoring conditions and in the control condition.

Control Condition:  Students in the business-as-usual comparison condition will receive mathematics instruction as established by their teacher and school. These students may receive small-group or individual tutoring as part of their special education or general mathematics curriculum.

Intervention: The interventions are two tutoring programs focused on mathematics word problems. Because research indicates that using mathematical equations (e.g., 7 - __ = 5) to represent word problems is effective in enhancing word-problem performance for students with MD, one version of the intervention under investigation will consist of a combination of equation-solving and word-problem instruction, whereas the other version will focus on word-problem instruction alone. This comparison is designed to isolate the effects of equation-solving instruction.

Key Measures:  To assess the effects of equation instruction within word-problem tutoring, students will be assessed on a variety of proximal and distal outcomes, including measures of word-problem solving, equation solving, calculations, computation, and quantitative concepts. These measures include Assessment of Equation Solving, KeyMath3 Applied Problem Solving, ITBS Math Problem Solving, Woodcock-Johnson-III Quantitative Concepts, and WRAT4 Math Computation. Other measures of reading skill, listening ability, verbal comprehension, and cognition are included in the study as potential moderators of word-problem solving.

Data Analytic Strategy: The study employs multilevel modeling to test for the effects of study condition while controlling for variance associated with classroom effects. Structural equation modeling will be employed to test the moderating effects of reading and oral language on word-problem performance.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Hughes, E. M., Powell, S. R., and Stevens, E. A. (2016). Supporting Clear and Concise Mathematics Language: Instead of That, Say This. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 49(1): 7–17. doi:10.1177/0040059916654901 Full text

Powell, S.R. and Fuchs, L.S. (2015). Intensive Intervention in Mathematics. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 30(4): 182–192. doi:10.1111/ldrp.12087 Full text