50 ninth and tenth grade students, who had failed either Algebra 1A or Geometry A undertook an afterschool program to earn a C in those classes while concurrently enrolled in Algebra 1B or Geometry B. Three students did not complete enough coursework; although they did attend, off and on, through the end of the course.
Less than 10% actually struggled to comprehend the material. The rest fit two profiles:
- active in activities that had taken priority over math for several years
- disliked teacher and/or had missing homework count for too high of a percentage to pass
On the other hand, the students from this school, could work for extended periods without supervision; unlike the other three high schools in the district. This is what really sets the school apart. However, the students just could not juggle time to learn math taught in a particular style while satisfying their personal priorities. Texting was their most common addiction and/or sports ate their time.
Design of Instruction
For credit, students were told that they needed to attend for 60 class hours.
- While not strictly needed from a credit recovery basis, the fact that no student passed an initial test-out meant that math schoolwork needed to be accomplished.
- The school is paid on a per student hour basis. Too few students makes the afterschool program unable to sustain itself. All students needed to be enrolled for the entire time.
- Main Problem: Given that these students are actually far behind in mathematics, 60 hours, far less than what is normally found in a semester, really cannot help them achieve proficiency unless accelerated methods are used:
- Adaptive math instruction with continuous formative assessment
- Calculators for adding fractions to speed students through material (a necessary evil)
- ALEKS online, data-driven, math software
- Casio fx-300ES two-line calculator with natural display inputs and outputs.
- Teacher provides one-on-one tutorials on an as-needed basis.
- Students start where they are mathematically comfortable before they undertake specific class coursework. This builds confidence and addresses underlying issues. The mutual burden is for the teacher to press each student to work as fast as possible and students to understand why. This remains problematic at other high schools, but was well-accepted at this school.
- With continuous formative assessment, no summative assessment is given. Doing math becomes the point of the class, not how many wrong answers still constitute a pass.
- As long as time requirements were met and progress was demonstrated, a C was rewarded, a B could be earned for exceptional work or if a B was earned in a student's concurrent math class. Students accepted this, but still complained during the last week of the course. Students considered their work of higher quality than it was.
- Because of start-up problems, the 60 hours of class time was not matched with 60 hours of computer time. For this first class, 40 hours of computer time was mandated as a minimum. In the future 50 hours will be expected.
- Unlike traditional summer school, mandatory attendance at a set time did not work with the majority of the students. Changing the course from Algebra for 2 hours on Monday and Wednesday and Geometry from 2 hours on Tuesday and Thursday to simply 4 hours per week helped the students succeed and gave them a chance to stay on track. Athletic activities frequently kept them from class at the originally scheduled time. In short, the two courses met simultaneously in a math lab.
- The above approach keeps students on problems on which everyday students also work. The more conventional approach to remedial or intervention classes is to offer simplified instruction. This common cursory review of all standards is not considered fruitful by me, but of course, this is a value judgement. A principal can direct that an AGS or worksheet approach be used instead.
- Many brands of math software exist, ALEKS offers the fastest path to proficiency, bar none. Also, from a practical standpoint, it also allows license reassignment, which is important in environments where students drop easily. For example, one $40 annual license is normally used four times: Two semesters, one summer school, and one reassignment. Other programs don't offer this reset capability.
- Having one standard computer login greatly helped. The student ID/password scheme, while it has been improved greatly (Thanks Mr. O), doesn't fit the approaches of many of these students. They login under various names unless simply given a default one.
- Individual student progress was recorded weekly in a spreadsheet.