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NewsNov 20, 2019

Making middle-school math easier

Lesley University Center for Mathematics Achievement working with WPI on online learning project funded by $8M U.S. Department of Education grant

From left: Dr. Hilary L. Kreisberg, director of Lesley University’s Center for Mathematics Achievement; Tina Cardone, the center’s assistant director; Cristina Heffernan, co-founder of ASSISTments; and Cindy Starks, director of user experience, training and visibility. They stand by a sign that reads ASSISTments: Always Free Always Flexible Always About Feedback
From left: Dr. Hilary L. Kreisberg, director of Lesley University’s Center for Mathematics Achievement; Tina Cardone, the center’s assistant director; Cristina Heffernan, co-founder of ASSISTments; and Cindy Starks, director of user experience, training and visibility.

In an effort to continue to improve mathematics education, Lesley University’s Center for Mathematics Achievement is receiving $1 million for its work with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), which — in partnership with the ASSISTments Foundation — was recently awarded an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program.

The partnership with WPI earmarks for Lesley University’s Center for Mathematics Achievement $1 million of the $8 million grant WPI received, building on the center’s previous collaboration through a National Science Foundation grant. This five-year grant, led by WPI professor Dr. Neil Heffernan, will be used to scale ASSISTments, a responsive online learning tool based in learning science. This project will focus on high-needs middle-school math students and their teachers in predominantly rural areas.

We are thrilled to once again be partnering with WPI and the newly formed ASSISTments Foundation to continue to improve the ASSISTments tool. We are equally excited to be advancing mathematics education and contributing to the research base.“ says Dr. Hilary Kreisberg, director of our Center for Mathematics Achievement

She adds, “As a former teacher and user of the platform, I am excited to collaborate to identify ways to make the tool more effective and useful for middle school math teachers.”

Kreisberg explains that the Center for Mathematics Achievement’s role will be to design instructional recommendations based on the user-data, so that teachers know how to implement supports in the classroom that build on and directly address their students’ common misunderstandings.

“We will also create virtual, professional learning communities, so educators can network with other teachers across the country to learn from each other’s best instructional practices,” she says. “The Center for Mathematics Achievement at Lesley University is known for our high-quality professional development and innovative work in mathematics education, and our involvement will help scale up the usage of ASSISTments, while also contributing to the enhancement of the tool.”

According to a statement from WPI, this U.S. Department of Education grant supports interventions that have already demonstrated their effectiveness. In April 2019, the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse published a federal research review of the ASSISTments Efficacy Trial and found the study to “meet standards without reservations.” In order to achieve this status, the study of the intervention needed to have had “positive effects without reservation.” This evaluation supported the validity of the study, which provides evidence that ASSISTments is one of only a handful of proven interventions in the U.S. for mathematics.

ASSISTments is an online learning tool that provides students with assistance in the form of immediate feedback and teachers with assessments about their students’ mastery of content. By receiving information about student performance, teachers using ASSISTments are able to target assignments to best support the progress of their students.

“This funding will also allow us to expand new faculty opportunities across the Learning Sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, thus increasing our ongoing efforts to build and study educational technology. We couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Heffernan in the WPI statement.

ASSISTments was founded by Heffernan and his wife, Cristina Heffernan, a former math teacher. Its design and engineering have been, and continue to be, sponsored and supported by WPI.