Notes on math homework

Jill Barshay

On the strength of those results, an MIT research organization singled out ASSISTments as one of the rare ed tech tools proven to help students. The Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse, which reviews education evidence, said the research behind ASSISTments was so strong that it received the highest stamp of approval:“without reservations.”

Still, Maine is an unusual state with a population that is more than 90 percent white and so small that everyone could fit inside the city limits of San Diego. It had distributed laptops to every middle school student years before the ASSISTments experiment. Would an online math platform work in conditions where computer access is uneven? 

The Department of Education commissioned a $3 million replication study in North Carolina, in which 3,000 seventh graders were randomly assigned to use ASSISTments. The study, set to test how well the students learned math in spring of 2020, was derailed by the pandemic. But a private foundation salvaged it. Before the pandemic, Arnold Ventures had agreed to fund an additional year of the North Carolina study, to see if students would continue to be better at math in eighth grade. (Arnold Ventures is among the many funders of The Hechinger Report.)

Those longer-term results were published in June 2023, and they were good. Even a year later, on year-end eighth grade math tests, the 3,000 students who had used ASSISTments in seventh grade outperformed 3,000 peers who hadn’t. The eighth graders had moved on to new math topics and were no longer using ASSISTments, but their practice time on the platform a year earlier was still generating dividends.