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Math Scores Soar with District-wide Improvement Plan

Math Scores Soar with District-wide Improvement Plan

 Some things simply add up.

 The equation to improve mathematics throughout the Alta Loma School District took plenty of calculating, but came down to a simple formula: define the problem, develop a plan and begin implementation with the proper tools and activities. And, of course, put the right person in place to help teachers make the plan come to life.

 As ALSD’s math curriculum and instruction teacher on special assignment, Gwen Marich has played a vital role in providing math instructional support to teachers throughout the district. The results are clear: ALSD students collectively not only have a greater understanding of mathematics and math concepts, but they also are more engaged in studying math, both on their own and in collaboration.

 “Over the past four years, the district's focus on increasing student achievement in mathematics has resulted in a 10 percentage-point gain in the number of students in the district who have met or exceeded proficiency,” Marich said. “This gain is in large part due to the hard-work and dedication of our classroom teachers, who continue to evolve and learn, just like their students.”

 While Alta Loma School District students typically scored well on standardized tests, math performance was average. In fact, just 49 percent of ALSD students met or exceeded proficiency in 2015-2016.

 A year later, the district implemented a new district-wide math training and support program that focused on the math standards at each grade level. The program was designed to help teachers better understand the math concepts and formulas students are expected to understand and execute at their respective grade levels.

 “It (the plan) developed their (students) conceptual understanding of the topics, rather than just memorizing steps to solve a problem,” Hermosa fourth grade teacher Allison Goebel was quoted as saying in a presentation Marich gave to the ALSD Board of Trustees in September. “I saw them grow in perseverance as they solved word problems and figured out their own way to solve them.”

 The focus pinpointed fourth graders, where students showed a learning drop-off from the start to the end of the school year. Math concepts weren’t seamlessly translating from one year to the next. To reverse that trend, Marich said the district sought to create a more natural flow of the material students learned in third grade with what they were being taught in fourth grade.

 The plan began with the fundamentals. To better meet and exceed standards, ALSD teachers needed to understand the standards. From a basic standards framework grew research into best practice models and examples to formulate strategies to tackle the challenge.

 The next step was an intense professional development training program for teachers, so that there was universal understanding throughout the district of the new concepts and strategies.

 “Building upon that foundation, we began the process of incorporating a number of critical components into our daily math instruction,” Marich said.

 New curriculum components were introduced, including interactive games, songs, projects, and activities that have allowed students to practice fluency, review previously taught skills and preview concepts that are coming in the future, said Marich, who travels among all ALSD schools to assist teachers in the ongoing implementation.

 Rather than long lessons that can be hindered by students’ short attention spans, different types of content is presented in short bursts every day, holding students’ focus and keeping them engaged.

 “The plan was a game changer for my classroom,” Hermosa assistant principal was quoted as saying Marich’s presentation. “The math activities (games) were the biggest hit. My students begged to ‘have game time’ when really it was all so educational. They even asked to take them to indoor recess time on multiple occasions. It was a win-win.”

 The percentage of ALSD students that met or exceeded proficiency has grown steadily since the program’s adoption, rising 10 points over four years to 59 percent. Perhaps more importantly, the learning loss from third to fourth grade has been reversed, with students showing greater comprehension by the time they complete their fourth grade year.

 “Gwen has provided outstanding leadership in mathematics, and our classroom teachers have embraced the math strategies and lessons she has recommended,” said Lori Thompson, ALSD associate superintendent for educational services. “Evidence of lessons supporting the mathematical practices and engaging activities can be seen all over the district in our classrooms. Due to everyone's focused efforts, including our students, we have seen steady growth in math and it is very exciting.”

 Along with the noticeable leap in math proficiency, Marich said students are more engaged and collaborative in math classes. She said they are showing deeper understanding of the material

 “My students were more engaged in math than I have ever seen, and their grades as well as CAASPP score tell the story on their own,” Banyan teacher Ted Guerrero was quoted as saying.

 The program’s benefits don’t end with improved scores and better math students, according to Marich.

 “We have happy and proud teachers.”