The study took place in two, large, urban school districts, one in Houston, Texas and the other in Nashville, Tennessee. Participants were drawn from 63 classrooms across 18 schools: 7 schools and 23 classrooms in Houston and 11 schools and 40 classrooms in Nashville.
Students in the Pirate Math intervention condition had the following characteristics: mean age of 8.98 years, 45% female, 762% eligible for subsidized lunch, 17% classified as special education, 29% had been retained a grade, 19% classified as English learners, 57% African American, 7% Caucasian, 26% Hispanic, and 10% other.
Students in the control condition had the following characteristics: mean age of 8.86 years, 34% female, 77% eligible for subsidized lunch, 17% classified as special education, 23% had been retained a grade, 15% classified as English learners, 70% African American, 9% Caucasian, 19% Hispanic, and 2% other.
The word problem solving program, Pirate Math, was the intervention. It was provided for 16 weeks, 3 sessions per week and included 48 lessons. Each session lasted 20 to 30 minutes. The 48 lessons are divided into 4 units. Trained tutors pulled students from the classroom at times other than reading or math instruction and delivered scripted lessons. Tutoring targeted solving total, difference, and change word problems. The introductory unit addresses foundational word problem skills, a counting up strategy for solving addition and subtraction basic facts, double-digit addition and subtraction, and how to find x when the unknown varies its position in simple addition and subtraction equations (a + b = c; e - f = g). The remaining 3 units utilize schema based instruction to teach 3 problem types; one per unit. Students learn total/combine, difference/compare, and change problems. Students are taught to recognize the structure of each problem, identify the unknown, and generate an equation that matches the structure of the problem type. Students were taught explicitly to recognize salient features of problem types and to identify transfer features that make identifying the problem type difficult. Activities included flash cards on basic facts, conceptual and strategic instruction, fluency practice on identifying problem types, and independent practice with paper/pencil review where number combinations, procedural calculations, and solving a word problem are included. Students solve the calculations for 2 min and the word problem for 2 min. Answers are reviewed.
Students in the comparison condition participated in business-as-usual math instruction. In Nashville, teachers followed the Houghton Mifflin Math curriculum (Greenes et al., 2005). In Houston, teacher selected their own math curriculum but were guided by Houston's Horizontal Alignment Planning Guide.
Support for implementation
Tutors are provided scripts to be studied before tutoring, not read aloud to students during tutoring. Tutors were trained in a one-day session of instruction which included practicing implementation. Tutors then practiced alone, with a partner, and then provided tutoring to their supervisor before implementation. Ongoing meetings occurred every 2-3 weeks throughout the intervention period to address problems as they arise and to update any tutoring procedures.