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Montessori Kids: Academic Advantage?

Study Shows Improved Test Scores for Students in Montessori Schools
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 27, 2006 -- New research suggests that children who attend Montessori schools may have an edge over other children in terms of both academic and social development.

But an early education researcher who spoke to WebMD says the study was far too small to be conclusive.

Researchers tested 30 5-year-olds and 29 12-year-olds attending a public inner-city Montessori school in Milwaukee, Wis. They also tested a similar number of 5- and 12-year-olds who attended non-Montessori Milwaukee schools.

The 5-year-old Montessori students were found to have better reading and math skills than their peers who attended traditional schools and they scored higher on tests measuring social development, researchers reported.

The 12-year-old Montessori and non-Montessori students had similar reading and math scores, but the Montessori children tended to score higher on tests measuring social and behavioral development, researcher Angeline Lillard, PhD, tells WebMD.

The study is published in the Sept. 29 issue of the journal Science.

Lillard is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, who acknowledges being a proponent of the teaching method. She published the book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius last year.

No Tests, No Grades

Roughly 300 public schools in the U.S. follow the teaching principles developed almost 100 years ago by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori.

This method stresses small group instruction that allows children to choose their own developmentally appropriate activities and learn at their own pace. There is no testing and no grading.

Montessori is primarily used in preschool and early education settings, but there are also Montessori middle schools and high schools.

Critic's Concerns

Concerns about the program tend to focus on the lack of testing and grading of school-aged children, Lillard says.

"Parents worry that their children won't be able to compete if they aren't exposed early to competitiveness in school," she says.

Lillard says she and co-researcher Nichole Else-Quest, PhD, conducted the study to address these concerns. And they designed their study to address another often expressed belief about the teaching method -- that it is the Montessori parent and not the Montessori instruction that makes the difference.

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