Low-performing students learn fractions better in specialized intervention than inclusive classroom

Very-low-performing 4th-grade students did significantly better learning about fractions when they received specialized fraction intervention than in inclusive instruction, according to a new study in Exceptional Children.

In 3 randomized control trials conducted in 3 consecutive years, 203 students who scored at or below the 10th percentile in mathematics at the start of 4th grade were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of inclusive fraction instruction or 12 weeks of specialized fraction intervention.

Specialized intervention provided explicit instruction, restricted fraction coverage, reduced calculation demands and focused more on the measurement interpretation of fractions through comparing, ordering and placing fractions on a number line. Intervention was provided to groups of 2-4 students 3 times per week for 30-35 minutes for 12 weeks outside the classroom in a quiet space. The manual, Fraction Face-Off , which was authored by several of the researchers and which includes materials and guides for 36 lessons, was used as the basis for the intervention.

Among the measures used were WRAT-4-Arithmetic, WASI (Vocabulary and Matrix Reasoning subtests), Comparing Fractions from the Fraction Battery—2012 Revised (Fraction Addition and Fraction Subtraction subtests) and 19 items from the 1990 to 2009 NAEPs.

“These results suggest strong added value for specialized intervention over inclusive instruction—at least in the domain of fractions which is often deemed one of the most critical areas of elementary school mathematics and the most essential for subsequent school success,” the authors write.

The achievement gap increased in years 2 and 3 of the study for both conditions as the state adopted the Common Core State Standards, increasing the challenge of the fraction curriculum and increasing learning for not-at-risk classmates, the researchers note.

“Inclusion Versus Specialized Intervention for Very-Low-Performing Students: What Does Access Mean in an Era of Academic Challenge?” by Lynn Fuchs, Douglas Fuchs et al., Exceptional Children, 2015, Volume 8, Number 2, pp. 134-157.

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