Minority Test Scores Improve Using Merit Software

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New research shows urban middle school students using Merit Software make big gains in high-stakes standardized test for math.

Using Merit math software as a supplement to instruction increased standardized test math scores for middle school students, say researchers at the Marshall University Graduate College in South Charleston, West Virginia.

Consultants carefully monitored the progress of students at Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston, West Virginia. Students were divided into treatment and control groups. Pre- to post-test analyses measured differences between the two groups in scores on West Virginia’s state standardized math test. The effect size measurement revealed a substantial improvement in the math scores of treatment group students. Minority student test scores in the treatment group increased just as much as those of Caucasian students.

The results of this research are particularly important because educators are now under greater scrutiny to help minority students. It was recently disclosed that many states have tried to avoid penalties in the No Child Left Behind Act by excluding a disproportionate number of minority student test scores in their reporting to the U.S. Department of Education. The Associated Press found last month that nearly two million students were not counted when schools reported yearly progress by racial groups. Most of these students were minorities.

“Following effect size guidelines of Cohen (small effect = .01; moderate effect = .06; and large effect = .14),” the research reports, “an effect size of .844 for Mathematics is an extremely large value, indicating a very substantial increase in math scores from pre to post.” In addition, educators could reasonably expect to replicate math gains at other schools, if they chose to duplicate the treatment. Positive gains using the math software transferred over to other areas of academic achievement such as Reading/Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies.

"Socioeconomic factors are always important when interpreting gains (or losses) in standardized achievement test scores," says Dr. Jerry Jones, coordinator of the research team. "Our examination showed that ethnicity was not a factor in students' ability to benefit by using the software. It is clear Merit math software had a large impact on the achievement of Horace Mann youngsters regardless of race."

“We didn’t make AYP (adequate yearly progress) on our last school report card, so this was huge for us,” says Mickey Blackwell, the principal of Horace Mann Middle School.

The Merit programs used by the teachers were Basic Algebra Shape-Up, Fraction Shape-Up, Pre-Algebra Shape-Up and Word Problem Shape-Up. The programs are self-paced tutorials. The format breaks down essential concepts into understandable parts, then gives students opportunities to apply what they have just learned. Students receive immediate feedback to their replies and may access multiple forms of assistance when needed. A record management system automatically tracks scores and allows teachers to view detailed reports. The combination of these elements makes teachers more effective and develops students’ problem-solving strategies in math.

Horace Mann Middle School was chosen as a test site primarily because it is a racially mixed inner-city school in which 51% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch; 63% of students are white; 36% are African-American.

All seventh- and eighth-grade Horace Mann students took part in the study. There were 150 students in the treatment group and 124 in the control group. Teachers at the school selected which classes would participate in the evaluation and which would act as a control group, receiving their regular instruction. Treatment group students used the software for an average of two 45-minute sessions for nine weeks.

The report is a follow-up to studies at three other schools, which evaluated the impact of Merit reading and writing software on students in grades 3 through 8. The studies have demonstrated that using Merit software as a supplement to everyday instruction improves student achievement and standardized test scores. In each of the previous evaluations student gains transferred to other academic areas. It was also demonstrated that Merit had a long-term impact on lowest-quartile students.

For more information regarding Merit Software and their full line of educational software, please visit http://www.meritsoftware.com.

About Merit Software: Merit Software (http://www.meritsoftware.com) is a leading publisher of educational software. Since 1983, Merit has focused on the core competencies for grades 3-12 and adult education. Merit is currently being used in thousands of educational institutions worldwide.

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