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Carnegie Mellon, WPI Grants To Explore 'Intelligent Tutoring'

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The United States Department of Education has awarded Worcester (MA) Polytechnic Institute and Carnegie Mellon University a four-year, $2 million grant to enhance a computerized program to help middle school students hone their math skills. The tool is designed to tie tutoring to the assessment of student performance under federal teaching and learning guidelines.

The grant will help the schools add new capabilities to the system, called ASSISTment, which was developed over the last four years with support from the DOE, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation.

The system is currently built around Massachusetts's comprehensive eighth-grade math exam. With the changes, the tutoring system will be linked to what students are learning in class. It will also generate reports so that students, parents, educators, and policymakers can pinpoint areas of progress and what topics students might need help mastering.

The system is set up to give local school systems long-term data on student performance they must report under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"The No Child Left Behind Act is putting pressure on states to find out what areas student need to improve in, which is leading to a rush to do more testing," said Neil Heffernan, associate professor of computer science at WPI. "Unfortunately, this testing cuts into classroom time, and the tests don't provide the kind of immediate feedback that teachers need to do a better job in the classroom. Our system can do that, and can also help students master concepts they're struggling with, without sacrificing instructional time."

Heffernan, whose expertise is in artificial intelligence and intelligent tutoring system design, leads a team that includes experts in cognitive psychology, psychometrics, and Web-based educational technology.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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