Reasoning Program Shows Promise in Pilot Test
Strategies that Aided Teens With ADHD Also Boost Scores in Middle School Study
April 27, 2009
The same strategies that helped teens with ADHD improve their critical reasoning skills may have the potential to help all Texas middle school students with their academic performance.
Preliminary results from a pilot program with Dallas Independent School District (DISD) students show a 30 percent improvement in critical reasoning after four weeks.
Researchers from the Center for BrainHealth in the UT Dallas School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences rolled out a pilot Strategic Memory and Reasoning Training (SMART) program at a local middle school to build reasoning skills in adolescents. After the month long pilot, the researchers are enthusiastic about the initial results.
“These results confirm our theory that all students can gain a lot from cognitive strategies. Equally encouraging is that the program works in a school setting and can make a difference quickly,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino. The SMART program is based on Gamino’s research of teens with ADHD. She has worked in collaboration with Dr. Sandra Chapman, chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, to create, administer and test the SMART program.
The pilot program involved 54 DISD eighth-grade students. The students’ critical reasoning skills were tested before the program, and nearly 85 percent failed the center’s Test of Strategic Learning (TOSL). These results parallel the national findings that U.S. teens with normal cognitive development are failing to adequately develop reasoning skills.
After the initial testing, the students were separated into three random groups of 18. All three groups received 10 40-minute training sessions. One group received basic memory training, one group focused on brain health information and tips, and one group received the center’s SMART training program.
After four weeks, the students took the TOSL again. Results indicated that the participants in the SMART group had a 30 percent improvement in their reasoning scores. Their peers in the basic memory and brain health groups did not improve.
As a whole, the SMART group also performed well on the reading portion of the TAKS test. 100 percent passed, 30 percent achieved “commended” status and one student earned a perfect score.
“What we find most promising in these preliminary findings is that students who were in the SMART group improved not only in our assessments of critical reasoning, but also on standardized tests that are regular parts of the school's curriculum,” said Chapman.
The study provides preliminary evidence that with proper training, public middle-school eighth-grade students can make swift, significant gains in reasoning competence.
Because most of the students in the pilot study are native Spanish speakers, the BrainHealth team also administered the TOSL in Spanish to determine whether the teens’ reasoning skills were better in their native language. The Spanish test results were consistent with the English results, suggesting their learning proficiency was the same in both languages.
A grant from the Dallas-based Meadows Foundation funded the pilot study.
“We believe that the future of Texas lies in improving the educational success of our teenagers. In order to do this, we must break the cycle of dropouts and teens’ failure to develop critical thinking skills,” said Linda Evans, president and chief executive officer of the Meadows Foundation. “These results make us hopeful that Texas can become a national leader and provide a model program to solve these crises.”
Using the final portion of the pilot funding, BrainHealth researchers will administer the TOSL to students in another DISD middle school before the end of the school year.
BrainHealth researchers are encouraged by the pilot study because they see this program as a solution to a critical decline in reasoning across the state and the nation.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States leads all other developed countries in education performance until the fourth grade. In middle school, performance begins to drop, and by high school the U.S. ranks in the last quartile. Texas ranks in the lowest quartile of all states.
According to the Alliance for Excellence in Education, many students entering high school, particularly those from urban districts, lack the necessary critical thinking and reasoning skills essential for learning and grade level achievement. This year alone, 33 percent of Texas high school students will drop out before graduation – a number that escalates to more than 50 percent in urban school districts. Over the past 20 years, 2.5 million students in Texas schools have failed to graduate. Not only are the futures of these students limited at best, the economic consequences in lost revenue and costs to the state approach $32 billion dollars.
“We believe the SMART program has the potential to reverse some of the alarming statistics about Texas and U.S. adolescents’ academic performance and potential,” said Chapman. “Texas could lead the way with a national model to teach teens critical reasoning skills, which are so important for long-term success.
Gamino and Chapman would like to see the SMART program used throughout Texas middle schools. “We’re finding that this program can make a difference quickly,” said Gamino. “Government funding, in concert with private support, will allow us to take our program into Texas classrooms.”