District working to turn around low ACT math scores

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BELOIT - As the School District of Beloit works to improve math performance, there's good news and bad news in scores measuring college readiness through ACT testing.

Overall math score trend lines for Beloit were up for 2016-2017 from the 2015-2016 testing, rising for high school juniors from 15 percent scoring proficient or advanced to 17 percent. Beloit, however, still posted scores well below the national average, which was 36 percent in 2015-2016 and 37 percent in 2016-2017.

Gains were made in Beloit by white students, with scores rising from 23.4 percent proficient in 2015-2016 to 27 percent for 2016-2017. Hispanic students more than doubled proficiency levels, from 6.4 percent in 2015-2016 to 14 percent in 2016-2017.

African American students, though, slid backward - from 6.9 percent proficient in 2015-2016 to 0 percent in 2016-2017.

In response, the district launched a new curriculum this fall. School officials say the effort is aimed at improving student math performance across the board, with particular emphasis on narrowing the racial achievement gap.

Plans include a new curriculum as well as a proposal requiring students to take continuous math classes in high school up until the ACT test, according to Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning and Innovation Anthony Bonds.

When Bonds arrived in 2015, he said his team took a hard look at the overall academic achievement data including a math curriculum review. After analyzing scores and getting input from teachers and other local experts, the district decided it would adopt two new curricula with increased rigor.

He said kids were coming to the high school with significant gaps, indicating a lack of rigor in the curriculum. The new curriculum is hoped to provide students with skills to be successful in math as well as prepare students for the ACT.

At the high school level, the district adopted the Big Ideas curriculum for algebra, algebra 2 and geometry. The previous high school math curriculum had been used for six years.

The district adopted the Go Math program for grades kindergarten through fifth, and the Big Ideas curriculum for grades six through eight. The elementary math program hadn't been changed in 13 years.

In addition to curriculum changes, the district has bolstered professional development for teachers and purchased resources to support the new curriculum.

Increased math support also is being offered.

"Last year there was one part-time math interventionist per school. This year most schools have two part-time math interventionist positions in the school," Bonds said.

Bonds said students who are identified as struggling in math will receive additional support, such as 30 to 40 minutes of extra tutoring with a math interventionist daily. Bonds also noted the district as well as each school building and classroom have math goals.

Bonds said he will be submitting a potential graduation policy revision for board review in April which would require high school students to take continuous math courses until they take the ACT during junior year.

Currently, Beloit Memorial High School students could take math for one semester in their freshman year and not be required to take another class until the second semester of their sophomore year. Bond's team is proposing a requirement where students take a math class for the first two-and-a-half years of their high school career.

"Most of our students never reach algebra 2 before their junior year. In fact, many students don't make it past algebra before taking the ACT. Our new plan is make sure students are prepared for the ACT by taking classes continuously," Bonds said.

Bonds said teachers are pleased with the program and see it as more rigorous for students, providing more challenge in mathematics.

"Because we have rigorous curriculum it further exposes a skill gap which exists and increases urgency to make sure kids are successful and show growth every year in their math abilities," Bonds said.

Director of Teaching, Learning and Innovation Jacqueline Jolly said teams from the district are dispatched to schools three times a year for monitoring visits. It's also the second year schools are offering a family math night, highlighting math curriculum. Parents also are provided with information on how to help students with math practice at home.

At BMHS, Bonds noted that every high school junior received ACT preparation during the school day as well as further opportunities after school.

Bonds said fully implementing a new curriculum and resources can take three to five years. Significant signs of improvement should be seen within the next four to five years.

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