It’s an often-asked question among American math educators: Would the pedagogy used in Singapore that has made it the top country in the world on international assessments, such as TIMSS and PISA, work here? A recent study by the Educational Research Institute of America (ERIA) set out to find the answer.
Who Was Involved?
The study examined a Singapore math curriculum currently used in elementary grades in the United States. A total of 59 teachers in four states’ rural and urban schools participated. Their students were in grades 3, 4, and 5, and 16 percent were classified as minorities. Half of the students at these schools received free or reduced lunches.
What Did We Learn?
All the students used the entire Singapore curriculum for the 2016–2017 school year and completed a September pretest and June post-test as part of the program. The study was guided by two key research questions:
- Does the implementation of a Singapore pedagogy program in grades 3 to 5 lead to improved student mathematics achievement?
- Does the implementation of a Singapore pedagogy program in grades 3 to 5 lead to differential effects on student achievement as a function of student ability level?
Here are the results for each tested grade:
Grade 3 Results
Figure 1 provides a graphic representation of the gains achieved by the Grade 3 students. The total group of Grade 3 students increased their average percent correct scores by 16%. The low-achieving mathematics students increased their average percent correct scores by 20% percent, while the high-achieving mathematics students increased their average percent correct scores by 13%.
Grade 4 Results
Figure 2 provides a graphic representation of the percent gains achieved by the grade 4 students. The total group of grade 4 students increased their average percent correct scores by 18%. The low-achieving mathematics students increased their average percent correct scores by 19% while the high-achieving mathematics students increased their average percent correct scores by 15%.
Grade 5 Results
Figure 3 provides a graphic representation of the gains achieved by the grade 5 students. The total group increased their average percent scores by 13%. The low-achieving mathematics students increased their average percent scores by 16% and the high-achieving mathematics students increased their scores by 12%.
After reviewing the total results of the study, it was determined that there were significant positive effects in each grade level. This was more apparent in the lower half of the student population. In fact, the student growth level for all three grades was large for both high-ability and low-ability students.
Why Is the Singapore Pedagogy So Effective for Students?
Experts studying the Singapore pedagogy have identified the following key attributes that appear to make it very effective with all populations of students:
- It consistently emphasizes a concrete-pictorial-abstract approach to mathematics. This enables students to develop conceptual understanding of concepts and procedures as well as the ability to apply them to solve problems. This approach is used in all grade levels.
- There is a strong emphasis on building number sense, particularly through the development of mental arithmetic and visualization. This is critical for future success in mathematics and life.
- Singapore materials focus on using mathematics to solve problems and to develop habits of mind, such as reasoning and generalizing, not on mere memorization of procedures. Students work on tasks, communicating their thinking as they solve problems.
- The curriculum itself is very carefully constructed to continually build on previous understanding to acquire new learning and to spend enough time on challenging topics to develop mastery of the concept.
These positive study results, reflecting gains across a very diverse range of student populations in the U. S., offer encouragement to districts and educators considering adopting the Singapore curriculum. Learn more about the curriculum and see the full efficacy study here.