Teachers Take Revolutionary Approach to Traditional Math Challenge

Virginia schools have recently been confronted with something schools in many other states are facing challenging new state standards. In Virginia';s case they are embodied in the Standards of Learning (SOLs). The pressure is on to raise math and reading scores throughout the state, with 70% set as a passing rate for individual students and schools.Virginia schools have recently been confronted with something schools in many other states are facing challenging new state standards. In Virginia';s case they are embodied in the Standards of Learning (SOLs). The pressure is on to raise math and reading scores throughout the state, with 70% set as a passing rate for individual students and schools.

Sudley Elementary School is a typical suburban school of 500 K-5 students. It is located in Manassas, Virginia, and is part of the Prince William County school division. Math test scores at the school have been consistently at or above the average in the division but there has been no upward movement over the past ten years. On normative testing Sudley's third, fourth, and fifth graders' math scores have averaged at the 60th percentile.

"We had to do something to get our scores moving upward" says Jonathan Lind, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Sudley. "We were pleased with the increases in our students' reading scores using the School Renaissance Program, which combines professional development seminars for our teachers and educational software used by students and teachers in the classrooms. The previous successes with the School Renaissance Program are attributed to our training through a Reading Renaissance seminar and the use of Accelerated Reader in our classrooms. This time we decided to go the same route with Math Renaissance and Accelerated Math to see if we could achieve the same positive outcomes on our math scores."

The Secret of Sudley's Success

In the 1997-1998 school year, Accelerated Math, produced by Advantage Learning Systems, was in its pilot stage and was implemented in two multi-grade classrooms at Sudley, each with students from the fourth and fifth grades. The program, which included a laser printer and an optical mark scanner, was installed on one stand-alone Pentium PC. The one computer managed the math curriculum for all 50 students in both classes.

After running the pilot for a year and a half, the newly released version of Accelerated Math was installed in January of 1999. Two more fourth and fifth grade classrooms, and two third grade classrooms, began running the application.

Accelerated Math is a computer task management system that operates at the task level in the classroom. Like Accelerated Reader, it provides information to teachers and students on students' individual achievement of the task. It is one of the many LIS (Learning Information System) products to come out of Advantage Learning Systems.

Teachers or students print out individualized worksheets and students do their work at their seats. When finished with their worksheet, students enter the multiple-choice answers on a scan card and run it through the optical mark scanner. A report that is automatically generated for the teacher provides information on the student's achievement. The teacher is then able to individualize instruction for each student, based on results from the students' worksheets.

"It is amazing" says Lind. "An algorithm in the program supplies unique problems on every objective selected by the teacher. The computer assesses each student's individual mastery of objectives as they work on them, and fresh worksheets are printed out with new problems for objectives assigned by the teacher. All I do is teach. I haven't taken work home to grade for two years. I push one button and 50 individualized tests are run off over objectives the students have mastered."

"We abandoned our old math program and relied almost exclusively on Accelerated Math" says Ann Lubas, the other teacher in the team. "And we were stunned by the results. Never in my teaching career have I seen test scores rise so dramatically. Our fifth graders went from the 50th percentile to the 90th (on normative testing) in just nine months."

Moving Math In a New Direction

To track achievement increases during the pilot, Sudley used the new STAR Math computerized test developed by Advantage Learning Systems. Beginning in the 1998-1999 school year, this test, which provides the teacher with an accurate assessment of a student's math skill level, was administered every nine weeks in the computer lab. Data from STAR Math indicated that the incoming fourth grade class of 1998, which began at the 60th percentile, had within eighteen weeks climbed to the 90th percentile. By June 1999 these students were working at the 96th percentile on the normative STAR Math test.

These kinds of phenomenal results are possible because Accelerated Math is a mastery system. Its success is based on "Time on Appropriate Practice" or TAP. Students work at a level appropriate to their ability. In Sudley classrooms, grade-level curriculum objectives (called "libraries") are linked together to cover appropriate work from the third through the seventh grade level in basic math. By working at an appropriate level, students experience success and receive the instruction they need. Until they master an objective, the program gives them unlimited practice. Achievement accelerates as students truly master the material and they end up averaging two and one-half years of growth in one year.

"This program d'esn't teach" says Lind. "Teachers teach. But it gives teachers the information needed to teach effectively. The many reports available provide teachers, parents, and students with the information necessary to improve and accelerate instruction."


Accelerated Future

In June 1999 STAR Math test scores were compared between the six Accelerated Math classes and the three intermediate classes that did not run the program. The classes without Accelerated Math dropped from the 63rd percentile to the 60th during the year, while Accelerated Math classes showed a percentile growth of ten points, from the 75th to the 85th percentile.

In the 1999-2000 school year, all intermediate classrooms at Sudley will be using Accelerated Math. "We know our math scores will be among the best in the division" says Lubas. "When our state math scores come out this summer, we know Accelerated Math students will score at the top levels."

Contact Information
Advantage Learning Systems, Inc.
Wisconsin Rapids, WI, (800) 338-4204, www.advlearn.com

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.