When in doubt, randomise.
There has been (justified) wailing and gnashing of teeth over recent year-9 maths comparisons, and the Herald reports that a `back to basics’ system is being considered
Auckland educator Des Rainey, who did the research with teachers to test his home-made Kiwi Maths memorisation system, said the results came as a shock to the teachers and made him doubt his programme could work.
But after a year of practising multiplication and division on the Kiwi Maths grids for up to 10 minutes a day, the students more than doubled their speed.
This program looks promising, but why is anyone even talking about implementing a major nationwide intervention based on a small, uncontrolled before/after comparison measuring a surrogate outcome?
That is, unless you believe teachers and schoolchildren are much less individually variable than, say, pneumococci, you would want a randomised controlled comparison, and since presumably Des Rainey would agree that speed of basic arithmetic is important primarily because it’s a foundation for actual numeracy, you’d want to measure the success of the program based on numeracy tasks rather than on arithmetic speed. The results being reported are what the medical research community would call a non-randomised Phase IIa efficacy trial — an important stepping stone, but not a basis for policy.
Of course, that’s not how education works, is it?
Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. See all posts by Thomas Lumley »