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ASSISTments Used Federal R&D Funding To Help Develop An Effective Math Teacher Platform

As a young graduate student in computer science and former Teach For America middle school teacher, Neil Heffernan and his math teacher partner, Cristina Heffernan, began a lifelong journey that started with one question: Can we expand the capacity of math teachers by building a system that mimics the processes and behaviors of the best human teachers? 

 

Their pursuit of an answer led Neil and Cristina to develop ASSISTments Teacher, a free K-12 formative assessment and practice platform that has been proven to nearly double student math learning in a single year.  

 

Today, Neil is the William Smith Dean’s Professor of Computer Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he continues to grow and develop the ASSISTments platform. Cristina is the Executive Director of the ASSISTments Foundation, a non-profit founded in 2019, to ensure ASSISTments remains “forever free.”

ASSISTments Teacher was developed with support from: 

National Science Foundation:

$2.6 million

Institute of Education Sciences:

$3.2 million

Education Innovation and Research:

$5 million

 

 

Funding that supported the research of ASSISTments Teacher

Institute of Education Sciences:

$10 million

 

Education Innovation and Research:

$3 million

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Educators can use ASSISTments Teacher to assign students classwork, homework, and assessments directly from an Open Educational Resources curriculum or as a supplement. ASSISTments Teacher has a library with more than 200,000 standards-aligned math problems, allowing teachers to create customized problem sets easily and at no cost. 

 

Teachers using ASSISTments receive real-time data on student performance that can inform what they cover in class the following days. Teachers can harness the power of data reports not only for individual assessments but also as a valuable tool for classwide reviews. ASSISTments Teacher gives students personalized feedback on their progress and the opportunity to access hints and explanations on problems that challenge them. Teachers can also write their own student support hints and explanations on the questions they assign. 

 

By providing support to students and data to teachers, ASSISTments Teacher increases learning outcomes and makes both homework and classwork more effective.

 

Palmina Griffin, a sixth-grade math teacher at Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass., has been using ASSISTments Teacher in her classroom since 2011. She said the student data the platform provides gives her insights that other learning programs don’t. 

 

“Having ASSISTment Teacher and the data allows me as an educator to reflect continuously on my students’ progress and meet the individual needs of all my students,” she said.

 

More than 20,000 students have used ASSISTments over the last five years. Based on its impact in disadvantaged urban schools and remote rural areas, US News & World Report and the MIT Poverty Lab named ASSISTments one of the most promising educational technologies in the country.

 

SRI conducted a large statewide randomized controlled trial of ASSISTments in Maine and found 75 percent more learning in classrooms using ASSISTments, while students who had scored below average on a math assessment during the prior year learned an equivalent of two years of math in a single year while in an ASSISTments classroom.

 

Another study, by WestEd, replicated the outcomes of a previous randomized controlled trial making ASSISTments one of the most rigorously researched and highly effective math learning solutions available. According to WestEd: 

 

Three main findings from the follow-up study show that ASSISTments (1) had a positive impact on student learning in the long term, (2) helped close achievement gaps between White students and students of color, and (3) benefitted more those students whose schools had a higher percentage of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or a lower percentage of White students.

 

Furthermore, WestEd determined that student learning gains were still measurable a year later: “The effect was sustained after one year of program implementation, which ended at the end of 7th grade.”

 

Leveraging a series of federal investments, the Heffernans were able to create a learning platform that replicated the traits of a successful teacher. The funding also allowed them to test the efficacy of the platform using RCTs and other independent evaluations. This combination – turning what works in the classroom into a scalable learning platform and then backing it up with rigorous research – is an exemplar of sound education research and development, and shows how federal investments can help create new learning opportunities for students everywhere.  

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