BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A program designed by University at Buffalo
researchers to increase mathematics achievement in pre-kindergarten
students has proven successful in a large-scale study in Buffalo
The program, based on an educational model called TRIAD and
including the Building Blocks math curriculum, raised test scores
by about 50 percent more than the "business-as-usual" approach.
The study addresses two urgent needs identified by President
Bush's National Math Advisory Panel to improve the way American
schools teach math. The first is to increase performance in early
childhood mathematics, an area the national experts cited as one of
the most pressing priorities in the country's mathematics
education. The second is to develop a curriculum and an approach to
implement it that can be "scaled-up," or shown effective for a
large sample of students.
"A major recommendation of President Bush's National Math
Advisory Panel (NMP) was to create and evaluate ways of scaling-up
effective early childhood mathematics programs. This we have done,"
says Douglas H. Clements, a member of the NMP and a professor of
learning and instruction in the Graduate School of Education.
Clements designed the program with Julie A. Sarama, associate
professor of learning and instruction.
A total of 662 students in Buffalo and 267 students in Boston
were taught using the Building Blocks curriculum. Developed by
Clements and Sarama, it stresses research-based instruction that
helps teachers understand the way young children think about math
and how that thought process develops. A second group of students
began taking this curriculum a year later in Nashville, Tenn.; the
results of this study are still pending.
The work was done under a $7.2 million grant from the Institute
of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education. It also
was part of the Interagency Educational Research Initiative.
This math curriculum was taught under the TRIAD model, which
stands for "technology-enhanced, research-based instruction,
assessment and professional development." The TRIAD model features
10 educational principles -- including coaching and mentoring for
teachers, the use of technology and enhanced institutional
development -- that aim to help students achieve more and remember
what they learn.
A group of 286 pre-kindergarten students in Buffalo and 94
students in Boston served as a control group. Teachers for the
control students used another math curriculum other than Building
Blocks that was not taught under the TRIAD model.
All students were tested in fall 2006 and retested in spring
2007 on a variety of math and problem-solving outcomes. Those in
the control group increased their scores by about 100 points, an
increase that Clements called a "large gain -- more than double
what is often seen around the country."
But the increases were even higher for those pre-K students
exposed to Building Blocks and TRIAD. The increases in their scores
were significantly higher than the students in the control
"They gained even more," says Clements. "They moved up 150
points. Those are very large gains."
The study produced some clear conclusions, according to the UB
The 100-point increase for students in the control group showed
students can learn substantial mathematics in the early years if a
school district commits to the importance of mathematics
But the 150-point jump for students studying under Building
Blocks and TRIAD showed these specific programs developed by UB
researchers can make an even bigger difference. "The big picture is
if a district decides to implement a program and is willing to take
the time to do it right, you are going to see dramatic results,"
"It would be difficult for any intervention to make a gain above
and beyond what the control students showed, and therefore for the
TRIAD model to make any difference, but it did," says Clements.
"Therefore, the TRIAD model and Building Blocks curriculum were
value-added ingredients in a fairly intense test of whether they
made a significant difference for children."
The TRIAD model is especially valuable because it can be used in
areas in addition to mathematics, according to the UB team. "It's a
model that can be applied to reading, fourth-grade science, social
studies," Clements says. "The findings from the TRIAD model can be
generalized to other grades and other subjects."
The UB researchers plan to continue working with these children
and will assess their growth in coming years.
Clements says he believes the results shown in this study will
prove sustainable -- lasting over several years -- provided schools
are willing to continue the TRIAD approach.
"If we work with the kindergarten and the first-grade teachers,
the gains these students made in pre-K will be built-upon and
increased," Clements says.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system that is its largest and most comprehensive
campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic
interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and
professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at
Buffalo is a member of the Association of American