Online Mathematics Homework Program Developed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to be the Subject of More Than $7 Million in Rigorous Research Studies

ASSISTments was developed by husband-and-wife team Neil and Cristina Heffernan at WPI and is provided for free to school districts across the country.

Two separate multimillion dollar grants have been awarded to education researchers studying the impact of ASSISTments, a free web-based learning platform developed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) that was previously shown to boost student scores on standardized math tests by approximately 75 percent. The grants, from the Institute for Educational Sciences (IES), part of the U.S. Department of Education, total over $7 million. They will build upon the prior trial to provide a “deeper dive” on ASSISTments.

Large and rigorous randomized controlled trials of online education tools for K-12 education are difficult to conduct and analyze, leaving school administrators with limited information to consult when making important decisions regarding education technology for their districts. The ASSISTments trial, conducted from 2012 to 2014 by SRI Education, a division of SRI International, was important in that it provided hard, comparative evidence of the impact of education technology.

Funded by IES, the study included nearly 3,000 students at 43 public schools in Maine, which, since 2002, has provided every seventh-grade student a laptop. Results published last fall in the journal Aera Open by the American Educational Research Association showed that in the schools using ASSISTments, students learned 75 percent more on a standardized mathematics test, compared to what they would be expected to have learned in a typical school year. In addition, SRI reported that students of lower socio-economic means made the greatest gains among their peers, thus showing ASSISTments helped close persistent achievement gaps.

Researchers are now building upon that successful study and expanding it into school districts across the country through the two new IES grants. The first, a four-year, $3.3 million replication project awarded to SRI International, WPI, and North Carolina State University, is intended to analyze mathematics test scores among a more diverse sample of students. It will include nearly 200 teachers and 10,400 seventh-grade students in 66 public middle or junior high…

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