Neil Heffernan and Cristina Lindquist Heffernan

What Works Clearinghouse Gives Top Marks to WPI-Developed Homework Program

Study of online homework tool developed by WPI team receives "meets standards without reservations" rating from U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse.
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May 23, 2019

The What Works Clearinghouse, a highly regarded federal research review of education products, has found that a study of the online homework program ASSISTments, developed by a Worcester Polytechnic Institute team, “meets standards without reservations.”

Part of the U.S. Department of Education, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) provides a rigorous evaluation of studies of the effectiveness of educational products. Its recent review examined a study of the impact of ASSISTments, a free online math homework tool that gives teachers insight into their students’ progress. The WWC review found that the study met WWC standards without reservations, meaning the study was found to be valid and without bias.

The review was of a study that involved a randomized control trial that looked at the progress of more than 2,700 seventh graders in 43 schools in Maine. Some did math homework on ASSISTments while others had non-digital, traditional homework assignments. The group that used the online tool outperformed the other students on the TerraNova Common Core assessment in math.


“ASSISTments gives students high-quality feedback on their work and improves learning outcomes,” said Neil Heffernan, a computer science professor at WPI who developed ASSISTments with his wife, Cristina Lindquist Heffernan, a teacher and math education specialist. “The review of the study, coupled with we’re hearing from teachers who say ASSISTments gives them important data, affirms our belief that pairing new technology with effective teaching strategies is critical to improving education in this country.”

ASSISTments was developed to provide better homework help for students. It gives immediate feedback to students as they work on assignments from their teachers, and gives teachers insight into areas where students struggle, both individually and as a class. Such homework assistance helps students gain skills, and the data produced allows teachers to conduct more targeted homework reviews and better use their class time. The system fits within common school policies for homework and doesn’t require instructional changes, such as purchasing new textbooks or altering pacing through topics. Teachers can assign problems and students get immediate feedback, while teachers get reports on student progress. For details, watch a brief animated video summarizing ASSISTments. The tool is free to districts and is one of a small number of homework platforms available via Google Classroom.

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.