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Dividing by Zero: Exploring Null Results in a Mathematics Professional Development Program


Since 2002, U.S. federal funding for educational research has favored the development and rigorous testing of interventions designed to improve student outcomes. However, a large proportion of the programs developed and rigorously tested in the past decade have shown null results on both student outcomes and, often, intermediate variables. Scholars reporting on null results often explain such results by reporting on factors identified informally as they either delivered or observed the program. In this paper, we argue for a more systematic approach to examining null results and illustrate this approach via an examination of one programs failure to impact teaching and learning. Although identifying the causes of a null result is a little like dividing zero by zero results are always indeterminate owing to the large number of possible contributing factors gaining purchase on potential explanations would allow programs to adopt more effective designs.

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