Title

Fadeout in an Early Mathematics Intervention: Constraining Content or Preexisting Differences?

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-2016

Keywords

Interventions, Mathematics achievement, Early childhood

Organizational Units

Morgridge College of Education, Teaching and Learning Sciences, Curriculum and Instruction

Abstract

A robust finding across research on early childhood educational interventions is that the treatment effect diminishes over time, with children not receiving the intervention eventually catching up to children who did. One popular explanation for fadeout of early mathematics interventions is that elementary school teachers may not teach the kind of advanced content that children are prepared for after receiving the intervention, so lower-achieving children in the control groups of early mathematics interventions catch up to the higher-achieving children in the treatment groups. An alternative explanation is that persistent individual differences in children’s long-term mathematical development result more from relatively stable preexisting differences in their skills and environments than from the direct effects of previous knowledge on later knowledge. We tested these 2 hypotheses using data from an effective preschool mathematics intervention previously known to show a diminishing treatment effect over time. We compared the intervention group to a matched subset of the control group with a similar mean and variance of scores at the end of treatment. We then tested the relative contributions of factors that similarly constrain learning in children from treatment and control groups with the same level of posttreatment achievement and preexisting differences between these 2 groups to the fadeout of the treatment effect over time. We found approximately 72% of the fadeout effect to be attributable to preexisting differences between children in treatment and control groups with the same level of achievement at posttest. These differences were fully statistically attenuated by children’s prior academic achievement.

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