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A comprehensive approach to math reform pays off


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.


“Some of the teachers were a bit worried about their technology expertise, and we helped them identify a student in each class who is their technology expert,” Moss said. She added that the system “empowers the teachers and makes the kids feel that what they’re doing matters.”

It’s also easy for teachers to bring relevant, topical issues into the classroom with MathForward. At the end of the 2009-10 school year, the eighth-grade students applied the math concepts they’d learned to study the Gulf Coast oil spill.

The students used the NASA web site, Google Earth, and the BP web site to gather information as they examined the logistics of bringing in recovery vehicles and how much the devices used to control the oil spill would cost. They also calculated the ripple effect of lost tourism during the summer.

“Eighty percent of high school dropouts [occur] because kids can’t pass algebra,” Moss said. “Making math engaging and relevant for kids is what keeps me up at night.”

—L.D.

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Laura Ascione

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