The setting of the study was 74 middle schools in 51 school districts in seven states, which varied by urban, suburban, and rural contexts. Both public and parochial schools were included in the study from city districts in Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Alabama; suburban districts near Detroit, Michigan, primarily rural districts in Kentucky, and districts throughout Louisiana.
99 percent of study participants were in 8th grade. The intervention and comparison groups did not show differences in racial/ethnic composition according to Table 1, p. 133. 41% of the middle school intervention group were Caucasian and 44% of the middle school comparison group were Caucasian. 30% of both groups were African-American. 27% of the intervention group were Latino and 24% of the comparison group were Latino. The groups did not vary by the proportion eligible for free and reduced price lunch (69% of the intervention group and 63% of the comparison group). 10% of both groups were classified as English Learners. The proficiency rates on state assessments in Reading 2004, Reading 2005, and Mathematics 2005 were different between the middle school intervention and comparison groups, according to Table 1, p. 133. The proficiency rates between middle school intervention and comparison groups did not vary on Reading 2006, Mathematics 2004, and Mathematics 2006.
The Cognitive Tutor Algebra I intervention combines the use of algebra textbook materials with an automated computer-based Cognitive Tutor program designed to develop students' algebraic problem-solving skills (p. 128). The software individualizes the instruction that students receive based on students' thinking demonstrated in the problems. The guideline is that students spend 2 days per week of their class time using the tutorial software and 3 days participating in student-centered classroom activities that involve group work and problem solving. The software was designed to provide students with real-world problem-solving situations and are aligned with standards established by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Students' use of the software is self-paced and the student experience is shaped by their mastery of the material (p. 129).
Schools in the comparison condition utilized their existing algebra curriculum, generally published by Prentice Hall, Glencoe, and McDougal Littell, during the two-year study period.
Support for implementation
Teachers received 4 days of training on the Cognitive Tutor Algebra I curriculum and instructional process, embedded in the software. Teachers attended a 3-day session prior to the start of the school year, and a 1-day training session during the school year. During the 3-day training, teachers received an introduction to the curriculum materials, tutoring software, and teacher instructional tools. Teachers are provided with guidance on how to implement the curriculum and suggestions of strategies for effective questioning techniques, as well as instruction on how to use data from the software to better tailor their instruction. During the follow-up training day in the school year, professional development staff observe classrooms and offer recommendations to improve implementation. Teachers received a set of training materials, an implementation guide, and various resources and assessments as part of the intervention group.