Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence From a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School

Many students in Ohio and across the nation continue to perform poorly in mathematics. In response to this chronic underachievement, schools have tried numerous interventions, including “double dosing” students who lag behind academically. “Double dosing”—most commonly utilized in middle and high schools—can be an extension of time in an existing math class or assigning struggling students to two independent math courses (one remedial, one comprised of grade-level content). In either case, the goal is to improve student outcomes through additional “time on task.” In this new study, the author analyzes student data from 2003–04 through 2012–13 provided by the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) to observe whether students’ participation in two distinct math classes improves outcomes. The study examines the outcomes of middle school students scoring just below and just above the predetermined cut-off score on the previous spring’s state assessment.[1] Findings indicate that students taking a double dose of math made significantly higher gains on math assessments compared to those students who were just above the cut-off score but did not receive a double dose. Yet over time, these gains diminish. Only one year after returning to a single math class schedule, gains fell to one-half to two-thirds the original amount. Two years post double-dose, gains shrunk further to only one-fifth to one-third of the original. These results indicate that double dosing provides students a big-time short-term boost; however, there is no guarantee that short-run gains will persist in the longer term.[2] Additionally, there are trade offs associated with double dosing students. The author appropriately notes that additional time in math classes diminishes time devoted to other subjects, assuming the length of the school day is fixed. While students shouldn’t spend all day exclusively learning math, we must find creative ways to optimize learning time in order to ensure that our students—especially those performing at desperately low levels—are mastering all material necessary for success.

Source: Eric Taylor, Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence From a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, June 2014).

[1] Students scoring below the cut-off score are identified as candidates for the double-dose schedule. However, a variety of factors determine students’ final schedules, and as a result, not all candidates are double dosed.

[2] These declining gains contradict the findings of a 2012 study focused on ninth-grade algebra students in Chicago Public Schools that finds “substantial long-run impacts of intensive math instruction” on future education outcomes.