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U.S. gives $3.5 million to study W.Va. math classes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia students will take part in a new digital math program next year, and an international nonprofit research group will study how it helps students learn.

The U.S. Department of Education recently awarded California-based SRI International $3.5 million to roll out the new math program in West Virginia elementary schools.

The program is fully digital and centered around an online curriculum that provides instant feedback for students and teachers.

SRI International will research student progress under the new curriculum in more than 50 second-grade and fifth-grade math classes across the state beginning in August 2014. Reasoning Mind, a nonprofit organization that focuses on "providing a first-rate mathematics education for every child," created the online program.

West Virginia high school students score among the lowest in the country on math assessments.

Only one third of West Virginia students who took the ACT in 2012 tested as ready for college-level coursework in mathematics, with fewer than half of all high school juniors scoring in the proficient range in math on the WESTEST.

The multi-year study will monitor the impact of computer-based learning and how it matches up against traditional classroom lessons.

Reasoning Mind CEO Alex Khachatryan said the system "is not just a technology wrapper on a traditional textbook."

"Our goal is to provide a curriculum that is a comprehensive, coherent approach to learning mathematics using state-of-the-art tools," Khachatryan said. "This study allows us to evaluate the efficacy of this approach."

The study will examine how digital resources can increase learning for students, and explore the comparison of conventional textbook approaches with digital curriculum, in addition to studying the impact on a wider diversity of students.

"Although there is growing interest in online education and digital tools, there has not been a rigorous evaluation of a year-long, fully digital curriculum in the classroom," said Jeremy Roschelle, co-director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI. "Reasoning Mind offers a complete curriculum, ready for evaluation, and the state of West Virginia offers the right conditions for testing a digital mathematics approach at scale."

SRI said West Virginia is the ideal state for the study, pointing to factors such as implementing Common Core standards, having good technical infrastructure, exhibiting success with Reasoning Mind in the past, showing an interest from the state Department of Education in supporting the project and a need to improve math education.

The Reasoning Mind program already has begun in Marion and Cabell county schools, according to the Department of Education.

"While the WVDE supports the program, it was up to the counties to decide if they wanted to conduct/pay for a pilot," said DOE spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro.

Part of the federal grant will go toward the cost of providing the Reasoning Mind program to schools for at least two years. After that, it would be up to schools to pay their own way to continue the program.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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