U.S. Department of Education Awards Worcester Polytechnic Institute $8 Million to Scale and Expand ASSISTments, an Online Learning Tool Proven Effective at Improving Middle School Math Scores

Expansion Aims to Include all 50 states by 2025
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October 21, 2019

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), in partnership with The ASSISTments Foundation, has been awarded an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program. 

This U.S. Department of Education EIR Mid-Phase grant supports interventions that have already demonstrated their effectiveness. In April 2019, the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse published a federal research review of the ASSISTments Efficacy Trial and found the study to “meet standards without reservations.” In order to achieve this status,  the study of the intervention needed to have had “positive effects without reservation.” This evaluation supported the validity of the study, which provides evidence that ASSISTments is one of only a handful of proven interventions in the U.S. for mathematics.

This five-year grant, led by Neil Heffernan, the William Smith Dean's Professor of Computer Science and the director of the Learning Sciences and Technologies Program at WPI, will be used to scale ASSISTments, a responsive online learning tool based in learning science. This project will focus on high-needs middle school math students and their teachers in predominantly rural areas.

Online Learning Tool Improves Student Academic Performance

ASSISTments is an online learning tool that provides students with assistance in the form of immediate feedback and teachers with assessment about their students’ mastery of content. By receiving information about student academic performance, teachers using ASSISTments are able to target assignments to best support the progress of their students.

The EIR Program seeks to “create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-needs students; and rigorously evaluate such innovations.” This EIR grant allows for the scale-up of operations for ASSISTments, allowing it to improve student academic performance and achievement, particularly for high-needs students; it will also allow ASSISTments to drastically scale its user base, while working to improve the user experience and develop new product features. As part of this grant, WPI and The ASSISTments Foundation are collaborating with Lesley University, which supports the creation of Professional Learning Communities and with WestEd, who will conduct the evaluation. ASSISTments is currently used by 2,500 teachers across 46 states and in 14 countries; the team expects to expand ASSISTments to all 50 states by 2025.

“This funding will also allow us to expand new faculty opportunities across the Learning Sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, thus increasing our ongoing efforts to build and study educational technology. We couldn’t be more thrilled.” said Heffernan. 

ASSISTments was founded by Heffernan and his wife, Cristina Heffernan, a former math teacher. The design and engineering of this online learning tool have been, and continue to be, sponsored by WPI. In 2019, The ASSISTments Foundation was incorporated as a nonprofit organization; Neil Heffernan is the founder and serves as board president. He is the recipient of more than $35 million in federal grants and was recently awarded the William Smith Dean Professorship at WPI.

Cristina Heffernan serves as Chief Program Officer for The ASSISTments Foundation and is on its Board of Directors. She has published, presented, and coached schools and teachers across the country. 

“This grant, in combination with support from our philanthropic partners, will ensure the scale-up and expansion of ASSISTments. We are so excited to expand our efforts and provide online feedback to thousands of teachers and students across the U.S.,” said Megan Roberts, CEO of the ASSISTments Foundation. 

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a purpose-driven community of educators and researchers, has been the global leader in project-based learning for 50 years. An impact maker for higher education and the world, WPI prepares confident, competent problem solvers with a project-based curriculum that immerses students in authentic, real-world experiences.

About The ASSISTments Foundation

The ASSISTments Foundation is a nonprofit sponsored by WPI. With $3 million in funding from two major philanthropic foundations, the organization is focused on scaling the ASSISTments learning tool to teachers and students across the country. The ASSISTments Foundation works with Heffernan and others at WPI to conduct cutting-edge research in the learning sciences. With support from WPI, ASSISTments pursues its mission to improve education through scientific research while not compromising student learning time. The overall vision of ASSISTments is to help teachers everywhere adopt tested technologies to improve instruction.  

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