New Study Examines Benefits of Freshman High School Math Intervention

May 3, 2013
by Doug Gavel

Success or failure in freshman math has long been thought to have a strong impact on subsequent high school outcomes. A new Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Working Paper co-authored by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Joshua Goodman examines the ways in which intensive math intervention in the 9th grade can significantly improve student performance in later grades.

Goodman and his co-authors analyzed an intensive math instruction policy in which students scoring below average on an 8th grade exam were assigned in 9th grade to an algebra course that doubled instructional time, altered peer composition and emphasized problem solving skills.

The authors found both positive and substantial long run impacts from “double-dose algebra” on standardized test scores, high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates.

“The attainment effects were larger than the test score effects would predict, highlighting the importance of evaluating educational interventions on longer run outcomes,” they conclude. “Perhaps because the intervention focused on verbal exposition of mathematical concepts, the intervention’s impact was generated largely by students with below average reading skills, highlighting the importance of targeting interventions towards appropriately skilled students.

“This is the first evidence we know of demonstrating the long-run impacts of such intensive math instruction,” they write.

Joshua S. Goodman is assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School. He teaches empirical methods and the economics of education. His research interests include labor and public economics, with a particular focus on education policy.

Read the paper on the Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Working Papers Website.

Joshua Goodman

Assistant Professor Joshua Goodman

“The attainment effects were larger than the test score effects would predict, highlighting the importance of evaluating educational interventions on longer run outcomes,” the authors conclude.


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