Students in grades 3-8 who used a personalized math tool developed by NWEA and Khan Academy to supplement in-class learning achieved higher-than-projected gains in math, according to results of a study released Tuesday by NWEA, a nonprofit research and assessment organization.
The web-based tool — MAP Accelerator — individualizes math instruction through lessons, videos and practice problems. On average, students in classrooms using MAP Accelerator at the recommended 30 minutes per week exceeded growth projections by 9% to 43%, depending on the students' grade levels. The growth trends were documented at all grade levels and across gender, race and poverty levels.
These initial results not only hold hope as one potential remedy to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss, but the math activities can contribute to more student engagement, mastery and confidence in the subject, said Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy.
NWEA and Khan Academy — a nonprofit organization that provides a free online learning platform of practice problems, videos, quizzes and articles on a range of pre-K-12 subjects — partnered in late 2018 to develop MAP Accelerator, launching it in fall 2020.
The study, conducted during the 2020-21 school year, analyzed fall and spring assessment results from MAP Growth, a computer-adaptive assessment developed by NWEA. The study sample includes more than 180,000 students in 3rd through 8th grades from 649 schools.
The study, for example, found that 5th grade students who used MAP Accelerator for 30 minutes a week had an average test score gain of 18% more than projected and gained 1.7 points above pre-pandemic norms. The study looked at MAP Accelerator usage in four categories: no use, less than 15 minutes a week, 15-29 minutes a week, and 30 minutes or more a week
MAP Growth scores are automatically imported into MAP Accelerator to generate a personalized, mastery-based learning plan for every student. Teachers can tweak those plans depending on learning goals and the most recent information about students' needs and strengths. Student use of the Map Accelerator can be done in school or at home depending on teacher preferences.
MAP Accelerator is available in English and Spanish, and researchers found the effects were not as large for students from districts with a student population of greater than 20% English learners. Analysis showed that these students tended to make less progress on fewer skills than their peers even within the same amount of practice time. This is likely due to the inherent difficulty of working in a second language, the study said.
Khan said he'd like to see further research into this and other aspects of MAP Accelerator.
Building positive math identities
Tammy Baumann, vice president of academic services at NWEA, said researchers found students in 3rd through 5th grades showed the strongest gains. But aside from positive math outcomes, creators of MAP Accelerator hope the program encourages math engagement and confidence in students, Baumann said.
"If students are actually engaged in the assessment or engaged in the mathematical task or engaged in the instruction that they're receiving, they have a positive math identity and they see themselves as a part of it, not a passive recipient of it," Baumann said. "So that's what we're aiming for."
Baumann explained that MAP Accelerator doesn't supplant teacher lessons but is a way to add variety to math instruction and practice for students, including those who are ready to move on to more challenging math concepts.
It also encourages students to build conceptual and procedural math skills in tandem, basically expanding their understanding of the "how" and "why" of math problem solving at the same time, Baumann said.
Khan said MAP Accelator's differentiated learning approach also benefits teachers who may struggle to guide the mastery and personalized learning for each student in the classroom.
"It's very hard to differentiate, and teachers also want to make use of standardized assessment data in a useful way," Khan said.
Because a student's MAP Accelerator program is tailored to students' math performance, the learning, practice and quiz content is customized to their personal learning profile.
"In some ways, it's very common sense, but the results seem somewhat magical, but it's not," Khan said. "It's really that students are just getting more practice, more feedback at their actual zone of proximal development."
Plus, learning can be fun, as well as help students hone skills such as perseverance and grit, Khan said.
School closures and disruption to learning during the pandemic contributed to dips in math and reading progress, said educators. Some research shows students' math progress saw bigger declines than reading, especially for younger students.
But as the fourth school year impacted by the pandemic ramps up, schools are beginning to see encouraging results of the efforts to get students back on track through summer programming, tutoring and other interventions.
Math achievement improvements from spring 2021 to spring 2022
For example, MAP Growth testing data analysis from the 2021-22 school year, released in July, showed promising trends of academic rebound for students in grades 3-8. However, results also show student achievement remains lower than expected had the pandemic not occurred, and that significant gaps remain between current and historic achievement levels for students of color and students attending high-poverty schools.
Additionally, research from the American Educational Research Association showed benefits of summer math instruction. A study released in July of children involved in math-focused summer programs found that they tended to score higher on standardized math tests and had higher math class grades than other students. The summer math learners also had higher school attendance rates and lower discipline referrals.