Broadening Participation in Mathematics for English Learners with Mathematics Difficulties: A Multi-Site Impact Study

Award Period: -
Award Amount
Award Number
Funding Source
National Science Foundation, Division Of Research On Learning and Informal Settings, Impact Project, NSF 17-584 Discovery Research PreK-12, Awarded to University Of Texas At Austin, CFDA No. 47.076 to University of Texas at Austin, subcontract to the University of Oregon, 2010550
Principal Investigator
Co-Principal Investigator


Success in mathematics has major implications for student success at the public school and postsecondary levels, as well as contributing to the nation’s STEM workforce and economy. While building mathematics literacy is important for all learners, it is especially critical for students most vulnerable for academic risk. Among these at-risk subgroups are English learners (ELs). By definition, ELs are not yet proficient in academic English and often come to school unprepared for the linguistic demands of disciplinary learning. Authentic and engaged content learning activities, such as early mathematics, may comprise the ideal context for acquiring the language and literacy skills ELs need. Research suggests ELs represent the fastest growing subgroup in U.S. schools. Currently, U.S. classrooms serve over five million ELs and estimated projections suggest that up to one in four students in 2025 will be an EL. Considering the rising presence of ELs, there is an urgent need to advance equity and eliminate disparities in STEM education among this group of learners who are often underserved by current practice. Overwhelming evidence suggests that ELs place well short of their non-EL peers in the area of mathematics. Therefore, the purpose of this 5-year Impact Project is to rigorously test the efficacy of the Precision Mathematics First-Grade (PM-1) intervention on the mathematics outcomes of ELs who face mathematics difficulties (MD). PM-1 is an innovative, first-grade, English-based, mathematics intervention focused on state-of-the-art technology and hands-on problem-solving activities, the PM-1 intervention is designed to support students with or at risk for MD in developing a robust understanding of the underlying concepts, problem-solving skills, and vocabulary of early measurement and statistical investigation. This study will examine student response to the PM-1 intervention based on variables such as students’ initial mathematics skill levels and proficiency in English, and explore how the rate and quality of mathematics discourse opportunities for ELs may predict gains in mathematics outcomes. This DRK-12 Impact study will investigate the efficacy of the Precision Mathematics First-Grade (PM-1) intervention through a methodologically rigorous randomized controlled trial. The study will utilize a randomized block design, blocking on classrooms and randomly assigning first-grade English learners (ELs) who face mathematics difficulties (MD) within first-grade classrooms to one of two conditions: (a) PM-1 intervention or (b) control (business-as-usual). Approximately 900 ELs from 150 first-grade classrooms will participate. Three research aims will guide this study. Aim 1 will systematically evaluate the average effect of PM-1 on student mathematics achievement; while Aim 2 will investigate differential response to the intervention based on student-level variables, including ELs proficiency in English and pretreatment mathematics performance. In Aim 3, researchers will explore whether the frequency and quality of mathematics discourse opportunities for ELs predicts gains in mathematics achievement. Although random assignment will take place at the student level, students will be assigned to small instructional group formats for intervention delivery. Therefore, the design employs a partially nested mixed-model Time _ Condition analyses to evaluate the effect of PM-1 on pretest to posttest gains in mathematics achievement (Aim 1) and differential response to PM-1 based on student characteristics (Aim 2). A random coefficients analysis that nests repeated assessments within students and PM-1 intervention groups will explore whether the rate and quality of mathematics discourse opportunities predicts ELs’ gains in mathematics achievement (Aim 3). The DRK-12 Program seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.