Officials in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District knew they needed a change when the annual number of students performing at grade level on state mathematics tests grew by just 3 percent.
After exploring their options, Cindy Moss, the district’s STEM director, and her team chose to implement Texas Instruments’ MathForward initiative to increase algebra readiness and math performance in the district’s middle schools.
MathForward is a comprehensive approach to math reform, built on eight research-based components: increased instructional time, increased teacher content knowledge, common aligned assessments, common planning times, continuous coaching and professional development, using technology to motivate students, curriculum integration, and administrator and parental support.
Moss noted that when students have problems with algebra, those difficulties often can be traced back to the student’s early days of math.
The program was offered to eight Title I middle schools on the condition that each school’s principal attend a day of training the summer before implementation.
“I knew that if the principal didn’t support it, we wouldn’t have a change—and it wouldn’t be lasting,” she said.
Out of the eight middle schools, six principals agreed to attend training, and 23 teachers incorporated MathForward strategies into classrooms with nearly 500 eighth grade students in all. Teachers used the TI-Navigator classroom system with TI-84 Plus graphing calculators.
In the program’s first year, Moss said the district’s eighth grade math scores on the North Carolina state assessment increased by 10 percentage points overall—but MathForward schools increased by 25 percentage points on average. During the second year, MathForward schools’ state math scores increased by roughly 35 percentage points.
“Kids in high-poverty schools were having 2.5 years of growth compared to their wealthy peers. … English as a Second Language and special-education students had four, five, even six years of growth in one year,” Moss said.
District averages for Title I students, which started at 63 percent proficiency for seventh-graders, increased to nearly 80 percent proficiency when those same students moved on to eighth grade.
And the program’s success is not limited to test scores.
“Discipline issues and classroom management issues have disappeared, because now the kids are engaged,” Moss said. “Teachers share and collaborate with teaching tips.”
The district soon will add another 40 algebra teachers to the program, so 77 of the district’s 110 algebra teachers will have access to MathForward strategies in their classrooms. During the program’s first year, Moss said, 65 percent of eighth graders were at grade level in mathematics, and that number has since jumped to 85 percent.
Some school leaders worried about replacing calculators if students mistreated the equipment. The program is in its third year, and Moss said not a single calculator has been broken or stolen.