blog posts and news stories

Empirical Releases Final Report on HMH Fuse™ iPad App

Today Empirical and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt made the following announcement. You can download the report and research summary from the study using the links below.
Fuse research report
Fuse research summary

Study Shows HMH Fuse™ iPad® App Can Dramatically Improve Student Achievement

Strong implementation in Riverside Unified School District associated with nine-point increase in percentile standing

BOSTON – April 10, 2012 – A study of HMH Fuse: Algebra 1 app released today by research firm Empirical Education Inc. identifies implementation as a key factor in the success of mobile technology. The 2010–2011 study was a pilot of a new educational app from global education leader Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) that re-imagines the conventional textbook to fully deploy interactive features of the mobile device. The HMH Fuse platform encourages the use of personalized lesson plans by combining direct instruction, ongoing support, assessment and intervention in one easy-to-use suite of tools.

Empirical found that the iPad-using students in the four participating districts: Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco and Riverside Unified School District (Riverside Unified), performed on average as well as their peers using the traditional textbook. However, after examining its own results, Riverside Unified found an increase in test scores among students taught with HMH Fuse compared to their peers. Empirical corroborated these results, finding a statistically significant impact equivalent to a nine-point percentile increase. The Riverside Unified teachers also reported substantially greater usage of the HMH Fuse app both in teaching and by the students in class.

“Education technology does not operate in a vacuum, and the research findings reinforce that with a supportive school culture and strategic implementation, technology can have a significant impact on student achievement,” said Linda Zecher, President and CEO of HMH. “We’re encouraged by the results of the study and the potential of mobile learning to accelerate student achievement and deepen understanding in difficult to teach subjects like algebra.”

Across all districts, the study found a positive effect on student attitudes toward math, and those students with positive attitudes toward math achieved higher scores on the California Standards Test.

The research design was a “gold standard” randomized control trial that examined the performance of eighth-grade students during the 2010-2011 school year. Each teacher’s classes were randomly assigned to either the treatment group that used the HMH Fuse app or the control group that used the conventional print format of the same content.

“The rapid pace of mobile technology’s introduction into K-12 education leaves many educators with important questions about its efficacy especially given their own resources and experience,” said Denis Newman, CEO of Empirical Education. “The results from Riverside highlight the importance of future research on mobile technologies that account for differences in teacher experience and implementation.”

To access the full research report, go to A white paper detailing the implementation and impact of HMH Fuse in Riverside is available on the HMH website.


Join Empirical Education at ALAS, AEA, and NSDC

This year, the Association of Latino Administrators & Superintendents (ALAS) will be holding its 8th annual summit on Hispanic Education in San Francisco. Participants will have the opportunity to attend speaker sessions, roundtable discussions, and network with fellow attendees. Denis Newman, CEO of Empirical Education, together with John Sipe, Senior Vice President and National Sales Manager at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Jeannetta Mitchell, eight-grade teacher at Presidio Middle school and a participant in the pilot study, will take part in a 30-minute discussion reviewing the study design and experiences gathered around a one-year study of Algebra on the iPad. The session takes place on October 13th at the Salon 8 of the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco from 10:30am to 12:00pm.

Also this year, the American Evaluation Association (AEA) will be hosting its 25th annual conference from November 2–5 in Anaheim, CA. Approximately 2,500 evaluation practitioners, academics, and students from around the globe are expected to gather at the conference. This year’s theme revolves around the challenges of values and valuing in evaluation.

We are excited to be part of AEA again this year and would like to invite you to join us at two presentations. First, Denis Newman will be hosting the roundtable session on Returning to the Causal Explanatory Tradition: Lessons for Increasing the External Validity of Results from Randomized Trials. We examine how the causal explanatory tradition—originating in the writing of Lee Cronbach—can inform the planning, conduct and analysis of randomized trials to increase external validity of findings. Find us in the Balboa A/B room on Friday, November 4th from 10:45am to 11:30am.

Second, Valeriy Lazarev and Denis Newman will present a paper entitled, “From Program Effect to Cost Savings: Valuing the Benefits of Educational Innovation Using Vertically Scaled Test Scores And Instructional Expenditure Data.” Be sure to stop by on Saturday, November 5th from 9:50am to 11:20am in room Avila A.

Furthermore, Jenna Zacamy, Senior Research Manager at Empirical Education, will be presenting on two topics at the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) annual conference taking place in Anaheim, CA from December 3rd to 7th. Join her on Monday, December 5th at 2:30pm to 4:30pm when she will talk about the impact on student achievement for grades 4 through 8 of the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, together with Pamela Finney and Jean Scott from SERVE Center at UNCG.

On Tuesday, December 6th at 10:00am to 12:00pm Jenna will discuss prior and current research on the effectiveness of a large-scale high school literacy reform together with Cathleen Kral from WestEd and William Loyd from Washtenaw Intermediate School District.


New Education Pilot Brings Apple’s iPad Into the Classroom

Above: Empirical Education President Denis Newman converses with Secretary Bonnie Reiss and author, Dr. Edward Burger

They’re not contest winners, but today, dozens of lucky 8th grade Algebra 1 students enthusiastically received new iPad devices, as part of a pilot of the new technology.

California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss joined local officials, publishers, and researchers at Washington Middle School in Long Beach for the kick-off. Built around this pilot is a scientific study designed to test the effectiveness of a new iPad-delivered Algebra textbook. Over the course of the new school year, Empirical Education researchers will compare the effect of the interactive iPad-delivered textbook to that of its conventional paper counterpart.

The new Algebra I iPad Application is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and features interactive lessons, videos, quizzes, problem solving, and more. While students have to flip pages in a traditional textbook to reveal answers and explanations, students using the iPad version will be able to view interactive explanations and study guides instantly by tapping on the screen. Researchers will be able to study data collected from usage logs to enhance their understanding of usage patterns.

Empirical Education is charged with conducting the study, which will incorporate the performance of over twelve hundred students from four school districts throughout California, including Long Beach, San Francisco, Riverside, and Fresno. Researchers will combine measures of math achievement and program implementation to estimate the new program’s advantage while accounting for the effects of teacher differences and other influences on implementation and student achievement. Each participating teacher has one randomly selected class using the iPads while the other classes continue with the text version of the same material.

Though the researchers haven’t come up with a way of dealing with jealousy from students who will not receive an iPad, they did come up with a fair way to choose the groups who would use the new high tech program. Classes who received iPads were determined by a random number generator.


Report completed on the effectiveness of MathForward

Empirical Education assisted Richardson Independent School District (RISD) in conducting an evaluation of the MathForward algebra readiness program published by Texas Instruments. RISD implemented MathForward in their 7th and 8th grade general mathematics and 9th grade Algebra I classes. The research employed an interrupted time series design comparing existing student achievement scores with MathForward to student achievement scores from the three years prior to the introduction of MathForward.

The results of this four-year study suggest that 7th grade students scored, on average, 11 percentile points higher with MathForward than the 7th grade students from the three previous years without MathForward. A similar result for the 8th grade suggests that students participating in MathForward scored, on average, 9 percentile points higher. While the trend did not hold for 9th grade, further exploration suggests that 9th grade students whose teachers had 3 years experience using MathForward scored higher than 9th grade students whose teachers did not use MathForward.

The report further illustrates how an interrupted time series design can be used to study a program as it is rolled out over several years. This research will be presented at the 2010 AERA conference in Denver, Colorado (Friday, April 30 — Tuesday, May 4).


Reports Released on the Effect of Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor

The Maui School District has released results from a study of the effect of Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor (CT) on long-term course selections and grade performance. Building upon two previous randomized experiments on the impact of CT on student achievement in Algebra I and Pre–algebra, the study followed the same groups of students in the year following their exposure to CT. The research did not find evidence of an impact of CT on either course selection or course grade performance for students in the following school year. The study also found no evidence that variation among ethnicities in both the difficulty of course taken and course grade received depended on exposure to CT.

A concurrent study was conducted on the successes and challenges of program implementation with the teachers involved in the previous CT studies. The study took into account teachers’ levels of use and length of exposure to CT; the descriptive data comprised surveys, classroom observations, and interviews. The major challenges to implementation included a lack of access to resources, limited support for technology, and other technological difficulties. After 3 years of implementation, teachers reported that these initial barriers had been resolved; however teachers have yet to establish a fully collaborative classroom environment, as described in the Carnegie Learning implementation model.

Maui School District is the company’s first MeasureResults subscriber. A similar research initiative is being conducted at the community college level with The Maui Educational Consortium. The report for this study will be announced later this year.


Maui Community College Hires Empirical Education for an Evaluation of NSF-Funded Project

In Hawaii, Ho’okahua means “to lay a foundation”. Focusing on Hawaiian students over multiple years, the Ho’okahua Project aims to increase the number of Maui Community College (MCC) students entering, persisting, and succeeding in college level science, mathematics, and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degree programs. Several strategies have already been implemented, including a bridge program with the high schools from which the MCC student community is largely drawn.

The Maui Educational Consortium provides leadership for this work and has been instrumental in a number of other initiatives for increasing the capacity to achieve their goals. For example, the implementation of Cognitive Tutor for Algebra 1 was the subject of a related Empirical Education randomized experiment. Another important capacity fostered by the Educational Consortium, working with the University of Hawai’i Office of the State Director for Career and Technical Education, is an initiative called HI-PASS, which aggregates student data across high school and community college. Initially in its evaluation, Empirical Education will be using information on math courses developed through the HI-PASS project to follow the success of students from the earlier study.


Two-Year Study on Effectiveness of Graphing Calculators Released

Results are in from a two-year randomized control trial on the effectiveness of graphing calculators on Algebra and Geometry achievement. Two reports are now available for this project, which was sponsored by Texas Instruments. In year 1 we contrasted business as usual in the math classes of two California school districts with classes equipped with sets of graphing calculators and led by teachers who received training in their use. In the second year we contrasted calculator-only classrooms with those also equipped with a calculator-based wireless networking system.

The project tracked achievement through state and other standardized test scores and implementation through surveys and observations. For the most part, the experiment could not discern an impact as a result of providing the equipment and training for the teachers. Data from surveys and observations make clear that the technology was not used extensively (and by some, not at all) suggesting that training, usability, and alignment issues must be addressed in adoption of this kind of program. There were modest effects, especially for Geometry, but these were often not found consistently for the two measurement scales. In one case contradictory results for the two school districts suggests that researchers should use caution in combining data from different settings.


Report Released on the Effectiveness of Carnegie Learning’s Bridge to Algebra

Empirical Education released the results of a year-long randomized experiment on the comparative effectiveness of Carnegie Learning’s Bridge to Algebra program. This study, like that on Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor for Algebra (see news for May 24, 2007), was conducted in cooperation with the Maui School District in Hawai’i and funded through a grant to Empirical Education from the U.S. Department of Education. The experiment could not discern an overall difference between the program and control group measured by either NWEA’s test for general math or the test’s algebraic operations subscale. However, for the algebraic operations outcomes (but not for general math), we found that students scoring low before participating in Bridge to Algebra benefited significantly more from the program’s algebraic operations instruction than did students with high initial scores. The district was specifically interested in looking at how the different ethnic groups, particularly the Hawaiian/Part-Hawaiian and Filipino students, performed in the new program. Controlling for pretest, we did not find that the program had a different effect for different ethnicities. The district was also interested in learning whether the program was differentially effective for students taught by certified teachers versus those with non–certified teachers. For the overall score (but not the algebraic operations sub-strand), we found that the program gave the non–certified teachers an advantage. Finally, despite some implementation challenges, teachers reported a generally positive attitude toward the new program.


Experiment Findings about Cognitive Tutor Not What Was Expected

Empirical Education released the results of its year-long randomized experiment on the comparative effectiveness of the Cognitive Tutor program, conducted in cooperation with the Maui School District in Hawai’i. Funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to Empirical, the research evaluated the local implementation of Carnegie Learning’s Algebra I product. Company president Denis Newman explained the results, saying, “We were surprised by the results and consider this study something we can all learn from. Nobody expected a negative impact on the experienced teachers but this may show that it takes some time to get back up to their high level of performance when learning a new way of teaching. Following these teachers’ progress into a second year would help to verify this explanation. This effect was not found in previous research, which again points to the importance of conducting many experiments on any intervention before coming to a conclusion about its effectiveness.” A second experiment in the same school system, focused on the new Bridge to Algebra product, is nearing completion.