A maths program developed by the South Australian Department for Education is putting primary school students two months ahead of their peers, according to the results of an independent randomised controlled trial commissioned by Evidence for Learning and conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).
The Thinking Maths program is a professional learning program for Years 6-9 maths teachers to improve middle school students’ maths learning.
The program involves 30 hours of face-to-face professional learning over three school terms, aimed at building teachers’ capabilities to make maths learning deeper and more engaging. Teachers collaborated to design quality maths tasks, using research informed teaching strategies to encourage students’ metacognition and growth mindsets as they progress in maths learning. Interspersed is ongoing reflection and discussions and a commitment to apply program ideas in their maths lessons in between professional learning.
The evaluation of Thinking Maths found that students whose teachers received Thinking Maths made, on average, one month’s additional progress in maths; however, there were critical differences between Primary and Secondary school students. Primary students made a promising additional two months’ progress in maths, but Secondary students’ made two fewer months' progress. Evidence also suggests that students from low income families may benefit more from the program than the general student population. The trial’s results were independently rated with high confidence.
This trial is one of the largest randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in education in Australia with 7,068 students and 158 schools, most of which were located in metropolitan (63%) and rural (30%) areas of South Australia. The cost of the Thinking Maths program is estimated at $149 AUD per student per year, which also makes it very low cost to implement in schools.
Through Learning Impact Fund evaluations like the one on Thinking Maths, Evidence for Learning is increasing rigorous evidence on the cost and effectiveness of educational programs and practices in Australian schools.
The findings are the first in a series of three wholly independent evaluations commissioned by Evidence for Learning to be released over the next three months.
Director of Evidence for Learning, Matthew Deeble said:
‘Teachers and school leaders are calling out for useful and reliable evidence. The Learning Impact Fund builds evidence that helps educators in their daily decision-making. As a result of the Thinking Maths trial, we have learnt that what has worked for Primary schools and their teachers will not automatically work for Secondary. By putting programs to this level of scrutiny, we’re going to improve our education system, help teachers have confidence in their teaching strategies and ultimately, make sure all kids, whatever their background, make the best possible progress.’
Dr Hilary Hollingsworth, Principal Research Fellow at ACER, led and conducted the trial said:
‘As Australia’s premier independent research organisation, ACER is pleased to have undertaken Evidence for Learning’s first Impact Evaluation. We know that building an evidence-base is critical to identifying what really works in education. Working closely with the South Australia Department for Education to conduct this rigorous randomised controlled trial, ACER has contributed reliable and useful evidence about teacher professional learning and factors that support improved student learning outcomes in mathematics.’
Ken Lountain, Executive Leader, Strategic Design at the South Australia Department for Education said:
‘While we were pretty sure we had a good quality program in Thinking Maths, we didn’t have significant, measurable evidence of the extent to which the program was helping teachers to improve their practice. This evaluation has provided independent evidence, both of the quality of the program and of its positive effects on teaching practice and student achievement. It is also helping us to identify the refinements we need to make to the current program and to think about whether some elements of Thinking Maths might add value to other initiatives. Evaluations of this rigour enable us, and other education systems, to tailor programs to ensure the best possible outcomes for students.’
The full findings are available.
Evidence for Learning
Evidence for Learning is a not-for-profit organisation that shares the best quality evidence on what works in classrooms with teachers and education decision makers across Australia. Evidence for Learning is incubated by Social Ventures Australia (SVA) with the support of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the Education Endowment Foundation (UK) as founding partners.
The Learning Impact Fund generates new evidence of ‘what works and why’. It's building an Australian evidence base for education. We identify, fund and evaluate programs to test their impact in improving the learning outcomes of children in Australia. These are rigorous independent evaluations.
Thinking Maths is developed by the South Australia Department for Education. This is an independent evaluation of the Thinking Maths program, commissioned by Evidence for Learning and evaluated by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).
About the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
ACER is one of the world’s leading educational research centres. As an international, independent, non-profit, non-government organisation, ACER undertakes commissioned research and development and develops and distributes a wide range of products and services. Any surplus generated through its work is invested in further research and development.
About the South Australia Department for Education
South Australia Department for Education (the Department) aims to achieve quality learning and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people.
The department manages South Australia’s public education system, with the goal of delivering worldclass primary and secondary education in all areas of the curriculum.
We also work closely with families to ensure our most vulnerable children and young people are supported and protected so they can grow up to be their best.