Arizona Students Catch Up Fast with ST Math

ST MAKES A MOVE: These pilot results down in Arizona are sure to turn a few heads. MIND Research Institute claims 6.9-percentage point year-over-year gains for a group of 14 pilot schools using its flagship program, ST Math, a math literacy tool that visually introduces concepts (as opposed to abstract symbols). That number averages scores for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders who achieved Meets Standards or Exceeds Standards on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). For the statewide population, there was only a 1-percentage point gain over the same time period.

The pilot reached 4,000 students--of whom 81% were low-income and 29% were English Language Learners--with the assistance of the Cisco Foundation, one of MIND’s largest benefactors. Andrew Coulson, President of MIND’s Education Division, tells EdSurge that Cisco was initially drawn in after hearing a MIND researcher at a conference present a hypothesis on why students get stuck when playing math games.

"One of our post-docs presented a hypothesis about what gets students stuck, [namely] non-math game play. It turns out when this game play is removed, the students are much more likely to progress," says Coulson. "In this case, from 48% [with non-math game play] to somewhere in the low teens [without]. These facts got Cisco interested.”

Of course, having a compelling software program is but one component of the pilot’s success. Each of the 14 schools were audited to gauge technical capacity and motivation for proper use of ST Math; every participating teacher received one day of intensive training to “explain how the visual approach is different from how concepts are normally presented,” says Coulson.

When asked what pedagogical changes are required of teachers, Coulson stresses that the initial focus is on having teachers understand what the software does. They also have to commit to using at least 75% of the recommended ST Math curriculum in order to see “robust and significant student outcomes.

An ultimate goal of MIND is for teachers to use the visual nature of ST Math as a bridge to more complex math problems usually introduced through abstract symbols. How this will play out in the atmosphere of read-plug-and-chug techniques encouraged by many textbooks and standardized tests is unclear. Still the Arizona pilot offers meaningful evidence of one alternative approach to closing the math achievement gap.  

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