The Math Follow-Up Study is a longitudinal project that is investigating middle and high school level mathematics achievement and cognitive abilities in a large urban sample of children from low-income families who participated in an earlier short-term longitudinal study of math skills.
The High School Follow-Up Study
In the summer of 2018, the Peabody Research Office received funding from the National Science Foundation to continue following the students who participated in the Middle School Follow-Up Study. This project will continue for the next three years, meaning that by the end of the study, we will have longitudinal data for students from preschool through the end of high school.
Rationale for the Study
Low-income and minority students attending high-poverty urban schools often struggle on the path towards higher education. States and school districts have worked to reduce barriers, including Tennessee’s initiative to provide tuition-free community or technical college to all high school graduates and school districts’ adoption of rigorous high school graduation requirements that include 4 years of mathematics and 3 years of science. The district for this study implemented an Integrated Mathematics curriculum meant to promote better knowledge and success in mathematics. This project is designed to identify growth trajectories and predictors of more and less successful students under these initiatives, continuing a study of over 500 low-income, predominantly minority students the research team has followed from preschool through 8th grade. This project will use a longitudinal research design and link rich data from previous projects to track growth in math knowledge from preschool through 12th grade and make connections to postsecondary readiness in STEM. By identifying pathways and predictors of postsecondary readiness in math for low-income and minority students, the project can identify factors that may be changed to broaden future participation in STEM fields.
The Questions We are Trying to Answer
Our research goals are to:
- Examine students’ growth in math achievement across high school and relate high school growth to previous patterns
- Identify predictors of math achievement and other indicators of postsecondary readiness
- Describe low-income and minority students’ beliefs about careers in STEM in high school, including how their beliefs have changed since middle school
This research will provide an unparalleled opportunity to investigate math knowledge development and postsecondary readiness longitudinally in a large, low-income sample at risk for academic difficulties. Few studies have followed a similar large sample of low-income students from preschool through high school. By combining measures of math content knowledge, cognitive skills, and postsecondary readiness across years, the project will expand theories of math knowledge development. Predictors of postsecondary readiness in math will be identified to determine what factors might be most important for improving STEM participation for low-income and minority students. In addition, focus groups examining these students’ beliefs about STEM careers and how these beliefs have changed since middle school will suggest what productive beliefs may need to be supported and what incorrect beliefs may need to be addressed.
Our work will also address questions of importance to the STEM research community, practitioners, and policy makers. Identifying predictors of postsecondary STEM readiness for low-income and minority students will inform future interventions to broaden their STEM participation. This project will also provide research experiences for undergraduate students recruited from historically black colleges to encourage their continued involvement in STEM education research.
The Middle School Follow-Up Study
The Middle School Follow-Up Study began in 2013 (when most students were in 5th grade), thanks to funding from the Institute of Education Sciences and from the Heising-Simons Foundation. This project followed a subset of students from the Early Math study throughout their middle school experience.
Rationale for the Study
The middle grades comprise a period of critical transition for students in mathematics. Students need to make the transition from arithmetic to algebra (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). Many do not transition effectively, especially students who come from low-income families and who attend high poverty schools. State tests indicate a deceleration in the rate of growth in mathematics achievement from 3rd through 8th grade for students whose families qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Focused attention on changes in mathematical competencies across the middle grades is needed, with special attention to cognitive competencies identified as being interrelated with mathematics achievement, such as executive function and estimation ability.
These latter areas may help distinguish students whose mathematics achievement is low, perhaps due to poor early instruction, and those who may be struggling with a specific math disability (“dyscalculia”). Moreover, difficulties with particular mathematics topics at the beginning of formal school may provide important indicators of children who may need earlier intervention and/or different instructional approaches to reduce later difficulties.
The Questions We are Trying to Answer
- What are the within-year and longitudinal associations between cognitive skills and math achievement across the middle school grades among a group of at-risk middle school students?
- What are the associations between children’s early mathematics achievement and behavioral trajectories, assessed in pre-k through first grade, and their mathematics achievement trajectories through middle school?
- What is the relationship between the quantity and quality of prekindergarten classroom mathematics instruction and later middle school mathematics achievement?
- What are the subgroups of children with different middle school cognitive and early mathematics profiles that may be linked to earlier indications of differences?
This investigation of mathematical competence at a critical transition period will provide deeper understanding of the relationships between mathematics achievement and cognitive skills such as executive function skills, approximate quantity estimation and visuosptatial reasoning. Individually the latter skills have also recently been used to identify a subgroup of low math achievers who may struggle with a specific math disability. In addition, being able to link two longitudinal data sets, one during the transition to school and the second in middle grades, with a sample of children known to have difficulty with mathematics, provides this project a unique opportunity to make important contributions to understanding mathematics development and disabilities as well as potential early indicators of math difficulties. Finally, the early data set also includes an unusually rich description of the types of mathematics instruction children were exposed to in pre-k, which can be investigated in terms of links to children’s later achievement.