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IES Grant

Title: Math Words: Vocabulary Support for Students Experiencing Difficulty in Mathematics
Center: NCSER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Stevens, Elizabeth Awardee: University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc.
Program: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (09/01/2023 – 08/31/2027) Award Amount: $1,994,476
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A230238

Previous Award Number: R324A230155
Previous Institution: Georgia State University

Co-Principal Investigators: Powell, Sarah; Leroux, Audrey

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop Math Words, an intervention designed to improve the understanding of mathematics vocabulary for third and fourth grade students with or at risk for disability in math. Success with math involves understanding the language of math, which may be through interpretation of numbers, symbols, and words but also through speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Math vocabulary is complex because math terms may have multiple meanings across content areas (such as equal sign versus equal rights), have multiple meanings within math (such as describing a circle as round versus round to the nearest tens place), or be homophones with commonly used words (such as sum and some, or pie and pi). Recent research demonstrates students' math vocabulary knowledge is positively related to math performance across the elementary grades. However, students with or at risk for a specific learning disability in math demonstrate significantly lower performance on math vocabulary. Given the importance of understanding math vocabulary for current and future success with math outcomes, this project addresses a significant need for interventions aimed at improving the math-vocabulary understanding of students with or at risk for disability in math.

Project Activities: This project will iteratively develop, implement, refine, and determine the promise of the Math Words intervention for improving math-vocabulary knowledge of students with math difficulty (SWMD), including those with an individualized education program that specifies a goal for math as well as those who demonstrate low math performance (at or below the 25th percentile).

Products: This project will result in a fully developed Math Words intervention for third and fourth grade SWMD as well as data on the promise of the intervention for improving the math outcomes of SWMD. The research team will disseminate research findings to practitioners and research audiences through online formats, professional development workshops, conference presentations, and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The project will take place in elementary schools in Kansas and Texas.

Sample: Approximately 20 teachers will participate in the development phases in years 1 and 2. Approximately 20 teachers and 80 SWMD will participate in a field trial to further refine the intervention in year 3. Finally, approximately 40 teachers and 160 SWMD will participate in a pilot study to examine the intervention's promise in Year 4.

Intervention: The Math Words intervention provides robust vocabulary instruction that supports deep math word knowledge and understanding. The intervention utilizes (1) semantic word maps to introduce critical math terms (including multiple exposures to words, student-friendly definitions, examples and nonexamples, morphology, and opportunities to practice applying the words); (2) teacher lesson guides for modeling, guided practice, and feedback; and (3) supplemental materials (such as math vocabulary card sets and visuals) to support distributed practice. It is intended for use by schools that either (a) have planned intervention time for SWMD to receive targeted math intervention from teachers (either general or special education) or math interventionists or (b) have planned intervention time for SWMD within the general education math block (through center or workshop models). This intervention time must occur frequently (more than once a week) and focus math instruction on SWMD.

Research Design and Methods: During the first 2 years, researchers will work collaboratively with teachers who provide instruction to SWMD to develop, revise, and refine the Math Word modules (40 lessons provided 2 times per week for 20 weeks). Researchers will use an iterative development process to (1) observe current math language and vocabulary instruction, (2) conduct teacher focus groups to identify current instructional challenges or barriers, (3) conduct a textbook analysis to identify critical math words for instruction, (4) identify an instructional framework (set of practices) for teaching these words, (5) and develop and refine the lessons with teacher input on feasibility and usability. In year 3, researchers will implement a field trial to examine students' responses and assess the feasibility for the pilot study. In year 4, researchers will test the fully developed set of modules in a two-level cluster-randomized trial, with teachers randomly assigned to the intervention or control condition and students nested within teachers.

Control Condition: Students in the business-as-usual control condition will be provided their school's usual math intervention.

Key Measures: Math vocabulary will be assessed using two researcher-developed math vocabulary measures. General math skills will be measured with the TOMA3 Mathematical Symbols and Concepts and the Stanford Achievement Test-10 Mathematics Problem Solving subtest. Student dual-language learner status, as a possible moderator of intervention effects, will be collected from schools. Fidelity of implementation will be measured using in-person observations and audio-recordings.

Data Analytic Strategy: In Years 1 and 2, observation data will be analyzed descriptively to determine the type of math instruction provided (such as time spent on vocabulary instruction). Focus-group data will be analyzed on an ongoing basis using qualitative methods to identify key themes across teachers and grade levels related to challenges or barriers to vocabulary instruction, teachers' needs, and critical terms that present difficulty for SWMD. For the pilot study, multilevel modeling will be used to estimate the effect of the Math Words intervention at posttest, adjusting for pretest scores. Researchers will also examine interactions within this model to evaluate whether treatment effects are moderated by student dual-language status for each outcome.

Cost Analysis: The costs of implementing Math Words will be assessed using the ingredients approach to determine the cost of every resource utilized to obtain the intervention's effect. Cost estimates will be summed across resources for the total costs.