SOE News

NEA Foundation awards grant to support rural youth in high school mathematics

Left to right: Judith Meece, Jeffrey Greene and Matthew Irvin

Three researchers at the School of Education have been awarded a grant from the NEA Foundation to support their work to bolster opportunities for rural youth seeking to meet high school graduation requirements in North Carolina.

North Carolina students entering the ninth grade in the fall of 2006 or later must score at a proficient level on end-of-grade tests for five essential courses in order to earn their high school diploma. Algebra I is one of those courses.

This $50,000, two-year project ─ a collaboration among Matthew Irvin, Judith Meece and Jeffrey Greene ─ aims to provide support for thousands of North Carolina students who did not meet this proficiency requirement in their Algebra I high school courses and seek to do so through North Carolina’s Virtual Public School Credit Recovery Program. Approximately 9,000 North Carolina high school students enrolled in this program in the summer of 2009.

The researchers will develop online training for facilitators who will support rural students who did not achieve grade-level proficiency in their Algebra I course. As the students re-take the course online, the facilitators will keep them motivated and engaged as well as foster effective learning strategies when the students encounter difficulties with the material.

The school-based facilitators often are not licensed teachers. Various school staff personnel might serve as facilitators, such as media specialists, counselors and secretaries. The goal of the newly funded project is to provide in-depth training to facilitators so they can provide adequate support to the students.

The intervention is based on a previous project of the School of Education’s National Research Center on Rural Education Support. The Enhanced Rural Online Learning (EROL) study supported rural youth taking online Advanced Placement courses in English Literature and Composition. In the EROL study directed initially by School of Education Professor Wallace Hannum and subsequently by Irvin youth whose facilitators had received the Facilitator Preparation Program (FPP) had a 70 percent course completion rate. Other youth whose facilitators had received more limited training had only a 41 percent course completion rate.

Now the researchers will adapt this intervention program to support rural students taking Algebra I online. “We saw this as an opportunity to help address academic barriers related to high school completion,” said Meece. “In North Carolina and many other states, Algebra is required for graduation. Many students are unlikely to persist in meeting high school graduation requirements unless alternatives are provided.”

“We know the intervention works with college-bound high school students who are taking Advanced Placement courses,” she noted. “The challenge now is to adapt the intervention to help students who are struggling learners. We’re shifting our focus to high school dropout prevention to support students seeking to gain proficiency on courses required for high school graduation.”

The researchers will work with the staff of the North Carolina’s Virtual Public School Credit Recovery Program to learn more about how they have prepared facilitators in the past and determine the value added of the FPP. In collaboration with mathematics education consultants, they will modify the FPP to train facilitators for students re-taking Algebra I.

Irvin and Meece, who study student learning and motivation, will focus on helping facilitators promote student persistence and engagement. Greene, who studies how students learn while using computers, will focus on helping facilitators support students as they pursue online self-directed learning.

This summer, the researchers will conduct a pilot study to begin to determine if facilitators can implement the FPP training and are more effective when they have received this training. The pilot study will also allow the researchers to continue to develop and modify the FPP as needed with the goal of having a final version ready for a large efficacy trial by the end of the project.

“We want to support the work that North Carolina is doing to help rural schools,” said Meece. “Research conducted by the National Research Center for Rural Education Support clearly indicates that rural schools are utilizing distance education to address the learning needs of advanced high school students. Our surveys indicate that rural schools depend on distance education to provide college-ready courses in advanced mathematics, English and literature, and foreign languages. We are modifying a successful program for college-bound rural students to see if it can address the needs of struggling students in Algebra I courses in North Carolina’s rural schools.”

The NEA Foundation is an independent, public charity that offers grants and programs to support educators' efforts to close the achievement gaps and to improve student learning.  It funds the critical work of teachers, education support professionals and higher education faculty and staff in the nation's public schools, colleges and universities. The support for the current grant came from funds provided to the NEA Foundation by the AT&T Foundation to promote initiatives to address the dropout problem.   

Irvin is a 2006 graduate of the School of Education’s Ph.D. program in Educational Psychology, Measurement and Evaluation. In addition to serving as a clinical assistant professor in the School of Education, he is currently a research scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Developmental Science. Meece and Greene are both full-time faculty members at the School of Education.