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Administrators added up the progress on the third of the three “R’s” at the June 8 District 202 School Board meeting, and presented the pluses and minuses in programs and student achievement experienced over the past year.

Numeracy, or mathematics skills, is a major goal for the District, along with literacy, well-being and finance and budget. There are two aspects of this goal:

1. Improve math achievement in academic courses – as measured by grades in math as well as the percentage of minority students in freshman honors classes;

2. Achieve measurable academic gains in math – as measured by performance on the Prairie State Exam (PSAE) and also by gains on other standardized tests.

Mixed Results

Department Chair Eugenia Brelias presented the Board with a set of mixed results.

The District made adequate yearly progress (AYP) via the Safe Harbor method of the No Child Left Behind Act in math for every subgroup on the 2008 PSAE (2009 results have not yet been reported by the State). In addition, Ms. Brelias reported that “the gains from EXPLORE to PSAE/ACT improved from previous years.”

The percentage of minority students in honors-level ninth-grade math classes went from 13% in the 2007-2008 school year to 18% in the 2008-09 school year, which represents a 38% increase. The District goal was to increase the percent of minority students in the honors level of ninth-grade math classes by 10 percent.

Student grades in math were more disappointing.

In 2007-08, 51% of first-semester grades in 1 Algebra classes were A’s and B’s; in 2008-2009, 48% of grades were A’s and B’s. In 2007-2008, 18% of students got D’s and F’s in the first semester, while 27% of students in the 2008-2009 school year got D’s and F’s.

Geometry and 2 Algebra grades showed a similar pattern for the D’s and F’s although the percentage of A’s and B’s in geometry rose slightly from 50% in 2007-08 to 53% in 2008-09.

Exploring the Reasons

“We don’t have full answers for this outcome,” said Ms. Brelias, but she suggested a number of possibilities, such as “more rigorous coursework … too many things to cover … student attendance, … student preparation … fewer number of struggling students attending AM support.”

The problem of non-attendance at AM support has been a regular topic of discussion over the past few months. According to the April report on System of Supports, daily attendance at AM support was at about 34%, down 10 percentage points from the end of 2008, although at the June 8 meeting Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said that it is now at about 40%. In previous years, students assigned to AM support who did not attend would receive a detention known as Missed Instruction Time (MIT). However, administrators eliminated that consequence because it was “punitive” and also administratively “unmanageable.”

Ms. Brelias quoted one teacher who said “Last year we used a stick (MIT’s) to get students to attend AM support. This year, all we’re doing is waving carrots in the face of students that aren’t particularly interested in vegetables.”

“I’ve only been here for three Board meetings,” remarked Board member Gretchen Livingston, “but it’s come up in every Board meeting in one shape or another. We don’t have students who need the most help attending AM support. We’ve got to figure out a way to get kids to get the extra help they need. If they don’t show up for AM support and if they don’t go to the after school (program) then it’s all for naught.”

Vice president Jane Colleton also emphasized the importance of requiring students to get more help. “Kids who are struggling with math obviously need more time. It ought to be mandatory,” she said.

“This is a little premature, but within the next several weeks the steering committee for SOS … is going to put something in place … some form of consequence that will lead to more demand on students that ‘you really have to be there,'” Dr. Witherspoon responded. “Sometimes students don’t see the direct connection between going to AM support and how it’s going to improve [their] grade.”

Board member Martha Burns asked if the students who were assigned to a double period math class were doing better as a result of the additional assistance. Some students get five days of double period, some get three. Ms. Brelias said that there was not much difference between the results for each group, but that next year the support session would be scheduled before the regular class met, so that teachers could preview and pre-teach ideas. “We feel that would help them understand it better,” Ms. Brelias said.

Improving Instruction

Ms. Brelias showed two videos that highlighted activities the department is undertaking to improve instruction and support students (see sidebar for other programs implemented this year).

The first video was of a Lesson Study, where on four separate occasions, members of the math department faculty worked together to plan, observe and debrief a lesson. Observations focused on math content, evidence of learning, student engagement in learning and student discourse.

The second video highlighted afterschool sessions associated with the Quarter Mastery program in geometry classes. “To improve student success . . . we provided multiple opportunities during the school day as well as after school for re-teaching key algebraic concepts in a geometric context and retesting those using common assessments,” said Ms. Brelias. “Next year, teachers will indicate benchmark skills from each that they want students to master and provide students with repeated opportunities to reach these benchmarks.”













Strengthening the Math Program

In addition to the Lesson Study and Quarter Mastery efforts, the math department implemented the following strategies during the past school year:

• Raised the level of expectations in regular level classes. Integrated Agile Mind (an interactive computer software program) with the 2 Algebra curriculum.

• Expanded co-teaching for classes which includes special education and bilingual students.

• 1 Algebra classes participated in a Minority Student Achievement Network/Strategic Education Research Partnership project which aims to improve algebraic understanding through assignments that target key concepts or misconceptions. The results of the study will be available at the end of the summer.

• Incorporated Academic Youth Development curriculum, which teaches students about effective effort, beliefs about intelligence and effective effort curriculum in 1 Algebra classes.

• Monitored student achievement at the Professional Learning Community (PLC) level by analyzing student work on common assessments to make appropriate changes to instruction.