Theses Doctoral

The Effects Of Elementary Departmentalization On Mathematics Proficiency

Taylor-Buckner, Nicole

Mathematics education in the elementary schools has experienced many changes in recent decades. With the curriculum becoming more complex as a result of each modification, immense pressure has been put on schools to increase student proficiency. The Common Core State Standards is the latest example of this. These revisions to the mathematics curriculum require a comprehensive understanding of mathematics that the typical elementary teacher lacks. Some elementary schools have begun changing the organization of their classrooms from self-contained to departmentalized as a possible solution to this problem.

The purpose of this quantitative study was to examine the effects of elementary departmentalization on student mathematics proficiency. This was done by exploring and comparing the background and educational characteristics, teaching practices, assessment methods, beliefs, and influence of departmentalized elementary mathematics teachers. The study also investigated the circumstances under which there are significant differences in mathematics proficiency between departmentalized and non-departmentalized elementary students, and examined if these differences continued into students' eighth-grade years and/or led to higher level eighth-grade mathematics course attainment. Additionally, the study aimed to determine if there was a relationship between elementary departmentalization and mathematics proficiency and also to identify additional factors that could lead to mathematics proficiency.

Data came from the U.S. Department of Education's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K) data set. The ECLS-K is a national data set that followed the same children from kindergarten to eighth grade focusing on their school experiences from 1998 to 2007. Numerous statistical analyses were conducted on this rich data set, utilizing the statistical software Stata 13 and R.

The results of this study indicate that there is a significant difference in the mathematics proficiency of departmentalized and non-departmentalized students when teachers have below-average mathematics backgrounds. The students of the mathematically below-average departmentalized teachers displayed the highest mathematics proficiency as well as the biggest gain in mathematics proficiency, and these higher proficiencies and gains continued into later grade levels. However, when exploring differences in mathematics proficiency among all students, there were no conclusive differences between departmentalized and non-departmentalized students.

Regression models yielded inconclusive results as well, even after controlling for factors pertaining to classroom size, student demographics and socioeconomic status, student confidence, parental background, teacher knowledge and instructional practices, and prior student mathematical proficiency. Other findings include self-contained and departmentalized third-grade teachers being very similar in their educational backgrounds and teaching practices, whereas departmentalized and non-departmentalized fifth-grade teachers were found to be fairly different in their educational backgrounds and instructional practices. However, in both grade levels, self-contained teachers appeared to be more reliant on printed materials than departmentalized teachers.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Walker, Erica
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014