Algebra's at-risk solution: districts deploy software to enhance and accelerate algebra instruction.Algebra wields an incredible amount of power in U.S. schools. It's the gatekeeper In an H.323 IP telephony or video environment, a gatekeeper is a device that manages domains and provides call control. It is used to translate user names into IP addresses, to authenticate users and to manage network resources. to higher math classes that commonly opens the door to postsecondary education and greater lifetime earnings. It's also one of the most frequently failed courses, often instigating a downward spiral that concludes with dropping out. Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. Superintendent Roy Romer Roy R. Romer (born October 31, 1928 in Garden City, Kansas, United States) was the 39th governor of Colorado and served as the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District from 2001 to 2006. says algebra triggers more dropouts than any other single subject.
Meanwhile, standards are evolving. More states require algebra for high school graduation, which means students with less preparation and weaker skills must bypass less rigorous courses like business math, and take algebra. A few states, such as California, have upped the ante even further by mandating that schools teach algebra in eighth grade.
The challenge for school administrators is to stem the tide Stem The Tide
An attempt to stop a prevailing trend. Sometimes referred to as "stop the bleeding."
If a stock is continually falling, stemming the tide would be an attempt to halt the free fall and change its direction.
See also: Reversal, Trend of algebra-induced dropouts by helping at-risk learners succeed in algebra. Some districts are finding that software can help students over the algebra hurdle by pinpointing learning gaps and fine-tuning instruction.
The Kennewick (Wash.) School District administration's previous approach pushed at-risk students The term at-risk students is used to describe students who are "at risk" of failing academically, for one or more of any several reasons. The term can be used to describe a wide variety of students, including,
While a less rigorous curriculum is not the answer, pushing ill-prepped students into algebra may set the stage for failure and begin the cycle that ends in dropout (1) On magnetic media, a bit that has lost its strength due to a surface defect or recording malfunction. If the bit is in an audio or video file, it might be detected by the error correction circuitry and either corrected or not, but if not, it is often not noticed by the human . Most districts handle failure via credit recovery. Traditionally, the student re-enrolls in algebra in summer school or the following year. But repeating the course, using the same text and teaching methods, is often unsuccessful. Los Angeles demonstrates the point; 75 percent of kids who repeated algebra failed the course the second time in 2005.
One fairly new option for students who fail algebra is software-based credit recovery. These self-paced remediation programs use software to fill learning gaps and help students pass algebra in summer school or in weekend and after-school learning labs, allowing them to stay on track and graduate on time.
"Just because a student fails algebra doesn't mean he didn't learn anything," points out Ron Bennett, former superintendent of Corona Norco School District in Riverside County, Calif. In a traditional class of 30 to 35 students, it's nearly impossible for a teacher to assess exactly what concepts a particular student misses. "The classroom teacher must complete the state required curriculum. Also, many students will not let their teacher know they do not understand a concept because they are embarrassed to ask," notes Terese Jurgensen, program coordinator Quest High School Quest High School is a small secondary school located in unincorporated Harris County, Texas, near the city of Humble, in the Atascocita area. The school is in the Humble Independent School District. , an alternative school in North Branch, Mich.
Most online credit recovery programs individualize in·di·vid·u·al·ize
tr.v. in·di·vid·u·al·ized, in·di·vid·u·al·iz·ing, in·di·vid·u·al·iz·es
1. To give individuality to.
2. To consider or treat individually; particularize.
3. instruction by pre-testing kids on algebraic 1. (language) ALGEBRAIC - An early system on MIT's Whirlwind.
[CACM 2(5):16 (May 1959)].
2. (theory) algebraic - In domain theory, a complete partial order is algebraic if every element is the least upper bound of some chain of compact elements. concepts, funneling them back to lessons to review missing concepts and bypassing concepts they understand. In the same lab, one student may focus on multiplication facts, another may work on problem solving problem solving
Process involved in finding a solution to a problem. Many animals routinely solve problems of locomotion, food finding, and shelter through trial and error. , and a third could focus on polynomials.
In many cases, the programs seem to do the trick. Last year, nearly all North Branch 10th- and 11th-graders who used NovaNet online courseware for credit recovery passed algebra, and other districts using math software are seeing more at-risk students pass algebra and meet state standards in freshman year.
In one Corona Norco high school, 74 percent of at-risk students passed the math portion of the exit exam after a six-week NovaNet intervention program; the historical pass rate for the at-risk group hovers around 20 percent.
The real challenge may be to do away with credit recovery. "We'd love to [eliminate failure and] not need credit recovery someday," says Raylene Truxton, district coordinator for online learning, Aldine (Tex.) Independent School District. Aldine is beginning to tackle that hurdle with online intervention programs. Struggling algebra students are enrolled in a SuccessMaker Lab in addition to algebra. The lab provides kids an extra boost by reviewing essential math skills and algebraic concepts. If students fail an algebra test, teachers can refer them to the after-school lab where they can review the concepts, retake re·take
tr.v. re·took , re·tak·en , re·tak·ing, re·takes
1. To take back or again.
2. To recapture.
3. To photograph, film, or record again.
1. the test and possibly prevent course failure.
Last year, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools recommended students with two Fs in algebra the first semester to enroll in credit recovery and algebra simultaneously. "Anecdotally, we're often finding that if a student gets remediation, he can catch up, pass the next two grading periods and may earn the grade needed to pull through algebra," reports Karen Gohringer, PLATO project manager for Columbus schools.
Despite implementing this algebra graduation requirement several years ago, Columbus' graduation rate rose 8 percent in 2006.
There is a plus side to the equation; the bar has been raised for at-risk kids. "Kids are better off than they were five years ago," asserts Gohringer.
Kennewick rolled out a similar preventative approach after noting early graduation test results and realizing that 95 percent of ninth graders enrolled in the lowest track pre-algebra course did not meet the state math standard. The district eliminated its pre-algebra course and placed all ninth graders in an integrated algebra and geometry class. At-risk students also enroll in a second "doubles" math class. The new at-risk program embraces these goals:
* Ensure students understand the content of the regular lesson with a quick review of the lesson and a check for understanding.
* Expose at-risk students to kids skilled in math--other freshman act as peer tutors A peer tutor is anyone who is of a similar status as the person being tutored. In an undergraduate institution this would usually be other undergraduates, as distinct from the graduate students who may be teaching the writing classes. during the morning class, and junior and senior precalculus pre·cal·cu·lus
A course of study taken as a prerequisite for the study of calculus.
pre·calcu·lus adj. students may help during the "doubles" class.
* Build missing skills like problem-solving or computation skills.
Kennewick places "doubles" students with the same teacher in both algebra classes. During the second class, the teacher reviews the morning lesson; students who demonstrate understanding use Academy of Math software by AutoSkill International Inc., to work on other areas of deficiency like fractions. Semi-annual external testing shows "doubles" kids are doubling and tripling the expected annual growth rate, gaining two and three grade levels in one year, reports Bond. What's more, they are surpassing teachers' expectations, passing the integrated algebra/geometry course and state testing. Before implementing Academy of Math, only 42 percent of all students met the math standard. In 2005, four years after starting the program, 73 percent of kids, including many "doubles" students, met the standard.
Bond credits a comprehensive plan, including the software, with the turnaround. The district assigned its best teachers to "doubles" sections and reduced the student/teacher ratio to 15-1 by hiring a para-educator to oversee kids working with Academy of Math.
Middle School Connections
"Ninth grade is almost too late for these students," admits Truxton. That's because students may feel trapped in a pattern of failure and their math knowledge may be several years behind grade level. One Aldine school uses PLATO to fill in gaps with seventh- and eighth-graders who never passed the TAKS TAKS Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (statewide student assessment as of Spring 2003) state exam; others target fifth- and sixth-graders to close gaps before a cycle of failure is established. Although the data is not in for the new program, Truxton predicts these at-risk kids will be more prepped for algebra.
Rutherford County Rutherford County is the name of two counties in the United States:
The enhancement a company gives its product or service before offering the product to customers.
This can either increase the products price or value. Assessment Scores. Students are enrolled in two math classes; the second class maintains a 15-1 student/teacher ratio and employs Academy of Math software to reinforce instruction and address individual needs like weak computation or problem-solving skills. "We're seeing gains of up to two years for students, and teachers in other subject areas have noticed improved attitudes and performance in students enrolled in the intervention program," notes Amy Blanton, coordinator of instructional technology There are two types of instructional technology: those with a systems approach, and those focusing on sensory technologies.
The definition of instructional technology prepared by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) Definitions and Terminology for Rutherford County Schools.
While Rutherford students progress to algebra in ninth grade, other districts are wrangling with algebra at the eighth-grade level. Take Baltimore County School District in Maryland, which offers algebra in middle school. In 2001, Dundalk Middle School, a Title I school not meeting adequate yearly progress Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is a measurement defined by the United States federal No Child Left Behind Act that allows the U.S. Department of Education to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically. under No Child Left Behind, turned to Carnegie Learning's Cognitive Tutor A cognitive tutor is an intelligent tutoring system which develops a cognitive model of a student as he or she interacts with the program, providing problems and individualized instruction based on this model. Software.
The curriculum combines three days of classroom instruction with two days of individualized in·di·vid·u·al·ize
tr.v. in·di·vid·u·al·ized, in·di·vid·u·al·iz·ing, in·di·vid·u·al·iz·es
1. To give individuality to.
2. To consider or treat individually; particularize.
3. online instruction in a teacher-supervised software lab. Dundalk saw standardized algebra test scores exceed the county and state average and increase from 49 percent to 86 percent over two years. The district also credits the curriculum's teacher-friendly approach with improving teacher retention in low-performing schools. The program guides teachers, says Pat Baltzley, director of preK-12 mathematics for Baltimore County School District, and helps them stay on top of each student's needs--a sure way to help them stay in school.
A Framework for Success
"Software is not a miracle worker," says Raylene Truxton of Aldine (Tex.) Independent School District. Districts that want to rewrite the algebra story for at-risk students should address the issue from all angles: teachers, administrators, students and software.
* Adjust teachers' belief system, says Dave Bond of Kennwick (Wash.) School District. The attitude that some kids can't do math does not build success.
* "Make sure the person responsible for instruction has the knowledge base needed," says Francis Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was founded in 1920. It has grown to be the world's largest organization concerned with mathematics education, having close to 100,000 members across the USA and Canada, and internationally. . Staff the learning lab with a certified math teacher.
* Teachers may resent software and believe it waters down algebra. Make sure the program has academic rigor rigor /rig·or/ (rig´er) [L.] chill; rigidity.
rigor mor´tis the stiffening of a dead body accompanying depletion of adenosine triphosphate in the muscle fibers. and share it with teachers.
* Wisely implement software by deploying it where it's needed and will have the most impact, says Pat Baltzley of Baltimore County School District.
* Credit recovery and intervention programs require consistency and dedication from the principal. That means establishing procedures to get kids into learning labs and hiring educators and paraprofessionals to staff labs.
* Motivate them by sharing standards, charting their progress and encouraging them to accept responsibility for their performance.
* Software should instill in·still
To pour in drop by drop.
instil·lation n. understanding, not just prep kids for testing, says Fennell.
* The program should include a broad base of algebra and pre-algebra, cover material on the state assessment and be flexible enough to be tailored to the local curriculum.
Detailing At-Risk Pupils
Not all at-risk students learn in the same way. Software can address basic differentiation, says Karen Gohringer, PLATO project manager at Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools. The reading level for instructions and problems is typically around sixth grade, and audio support helps struggling readers and ESL (1) An earlier family of client/server development tools for Windows and OS/2 from Ardent Software (formerly VMARK). It was originally developed by Easel Corporation, which was acquired by VMARK. students. Keyboarding provides tactile tactile /tac·tile/ (tak´til) pertaining to touch.
1. Perceptible to the sense of touch; tangible.
2. Used for feeling.
3. stimulation for kinesthetic kin·es·the·sia
The sense that detects bodily position, weight, or movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints.
[Greek k learners, and multi-media animations provide visual stimulation to lure reluctant learners.
Typical subgroups break students into racial or economic categories, but AutoSkill International Inc. has put a new spin on differentiation by segmenting at-risk students across all subjects into a four-category continuum. Each type of student has unique needs and requires a different blend of skill development and motivational switches.
* "Bubble students" are slightly behind their peers and need quick intervention and targeted instruction to catch up.
* "Reluctant learners" fall farther behind and require targeted and direct instruction to fill missing skills and build trust with the teacher.
* "Disengaged dis·en·gage
v. dis·en·gaged, dis·en·gag·ing, dis·en·gag·es
1. To release from something that holds fast, connects, or entangles. See Synonyms at extricate.
2. students" expect failure and need high intensity intervention in a range of missing skills.
* "Spiral students" have a long history of failure and are a high dropout risk. The challenge is to create willingness to learn, so students must be moved far back in the math curriculum to experience success and re-engage in learning. This may mean taking student's back to very basic math tasks.
Check out these sites for more information about algebra assistance programs to help at-risk learners.
www.autoskill.com www.carnegielearning.com www.pearsondigital.com www.plato.com
Lisa Fratt is a contributing editor A contributing editor is a magazine job title that varies in responsibilities. Most often, a contributing editor is a freelancer who has proven ability and readership draw. .