Giving Compass’ Take:
• MDRC examines a preschool math program called Making Pre-K Count, specifically the unexpected elements related to how teachers approached students who struggled. The “theory of change” concept built into the program could inform how to improve it.
• Studying the outcomes of any education program is valuable, especially when it comes to listening to the concerns of teachers and adapting to students’ needs. Will other math-related initiatives follow suit?
• One other obstacle that holds some students back when it comes to math: the fear factor.
As part of our study of Making Pre-K Count, an innovative preschool math program, we conducted in-depth qualitative research to better understand how the program produced its effects. The program has several instructional components that are directly measurable, but one key process-related ingredient in the program’s theory of change is less well understood — that is, teachers’ ability to differentiate their instruction to individual students’ needs. What can we learn about a main intervention component that is challenging both to implement and to document?
The intervention in Making Pre-K Count used Building Blocks, a pre-K math curriculum that includes 30 weekly lesson plans consisting of four main components: (1) whole-group activities; (2) small-group instruction, led by a teacher with three to four children at a time; (3) Hands On Math Centers, offering activities children can play with on their own or in a small group, with or without a teacher; and (4) computer activities. In the study, the curriculum was implemented by teachers over two school years and was supported by 11 days of teacher training and ongoing, in-classroom coaching provided by Bank Street College of Education. Teachers were trained in differentiating the math content and activities, an instructional approach that involves keenly observing children and tailoring instruction to meet each student’s learning styles, abilities, skills, and interests.
The program successfully changed teachers’ math practices in the pre-K year, but those impacts did not translate into consistent effects on children’s outcomes at the end of pre-K. By the end of kindergarten, however, as described in a newly released report, the program did lead to slightly improved math skills, more positive attitudes toward math, and stronger working memory skills for children.
Read the full article about informing math program improvements by studying theory of change at mdrc.org.
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