Officials hope math efforts add up

Genessa Heide, a freshman at Soroco High School, has some words of advice for middle-schoolers who might not look forward to two classes of math.

"I'd just say, don't worry about it. It actually does help, and it's (more) fun because you understand it," she said. "It's not confusing, and it's just fun when you know what you're doing."

Last year, Heide and fellow Soroco students were subject to changes in the math program at the district's middle and high schools. Among those changes was the addition of a second math class, held every other day, for middle school students.

For the past few years, all three school districts in Routt County have focused on improving students' scores and learning in math.

Results from Colorado Stu--dent Assessment Program tests, or CSAP, show an improvement trend in the subject area at most schools, school officials say.

Those scores have brought statewide attention, positive and negative, to different classes and schools in Routt County because of an analysis by the Rocky Mountain News.

According to that analysis, which compared changes in math scores for 10th-graders across the state, Soroco High School ranked third in the state in terms of most-improved scores. The school jumped from having none of its 10th-graders scoring proficient or advanced in math in 2004 to having 29.4 percent of its students proficient or advanced in math this year.

Also in that analysis, Steam--boat Springs High School 10th-graders were fourth in the state for the biggest decrease in math scores. In 2004, 56.8 percent of Steamboat 10th-graders scored proficient or advanced -- the highest percentage in the state. This year, 39.4 percent were proficient or advanced in math. Still, 39.4 percent is well above the state average of 30 percent of students scoring proficient or advanced on the CSAP math test.

However, those numbers do not represent what happened at all grade levels in each local district.

In the South Routt School District, three grade levels, not including 10th grade, had more students score proficient or advanced this year, and two grade levels had fewer students score proficient or advanced. Third- through fifth-graders were above the state average; the other grades were below.

In the Steamboat Springs School District, there were in----creases in the percentage of proficient or advanced students at every grade level -- including a 22 percent increase in one grade -- except for 10th grade. All grade levels scored above the state average.

The Hayden School District experienced decreases in the percentage of proficient or ad----vanced students at every grade level except the seventh grade, for which there was an 18 percent increase. Half of the grade levels were above the state average.

School officials stress that CSAP scores are just part of a "body of evidence" that shows how well students are learning.

Regional focus

Jane Toothaker, executive di----rector of Northwest Board of Cooperative Educational Ser--vices, said math became more of a focus across Northwest Colorado a few years ago, when school officials realized students weren't making as much progress in math as was desired.

They decided to make some changes and increase the number of math resources. One change came in the form of Elaine Boyer, a math consultant hired last year to work in the BOCES region, which in----cludes Routt County and its three public school districts.

Having Boyer work 110 days a year costs $50,000, which is divided among the BOCES districts. Steamboat pays about $13,000 a year, South Routt pays about $8,800 and Hayden pays about $9,000.

Boyer has worked with district officials and math departments on math curriculum. She also has worked in groups and one on one with teachers to identify areas to improve instruction, develop problem-solving strategies and try out different teaching techniques. She meets with each math teacher twice a month and will continue her consulting work this year.

Schools have seen benefits from that investment, Toothaker said, though she admits there still is room for growth.

"I see, in general, a trend with these districts where they're improving," she said.

"When you're trying to make a change of this magnitude ... you have to give it some time."

South Routt

Julie Hoff, the South Routt School District math coach for the past year, said changing how students think about math is the first step to helping them learn.

That means helping students realize they are good at math.

"We really work to foster that in kids, (that feeling of) 'You can do this, it's not that hard,'" she said

A few years ago, South Routt took the first step toward better math achievement by changing its graduation requirement. Students now have to take three years of math instead of two.

Schools also switched textbooks.

Starting last year, the district had workshop classes for middle school students, which are mandatory and scheduled every other day, and at the high school, which are optional and scheduled every day.

The classes provide students a chance to follow up on what they learned in class, get practice and work together.

"We raised expectations for kids, and we said we expect you to do more, we expect you to think more," Hoff said.

And kids did, which is the best part, she said.

"We said the stakes are higher, and everybody said, 'OK, let's go for it,'" she said.

Soroco High School Principal James Chamberlin said he attributes the successes on some scores to the efforts of students and teachers and the increased focus on math.

"We're certainly pleased with the trend in the results that we're seeing," he said.

Hayden

Troy Zabel, Hayden second--ary principal, said he is concerned about all his students' scores. Although the school's math scores didn't decrease significantly from last year's results, he thinks they should be higher because Hayden schools are small and allow for more one-on-one instruction.

Last year, some of the ground--work was laid to start making changes, including getting the school's scores above state averages.

To improve students' performance in math, the high school has added a math lab. Students who are struggling will use the lab during the seventh hour of the day for about a week at a time. That way, they can get one-on-one help.

Zabel also is working with teachers to examine instructional approaches to make math more relevant and make sure students are learning.

The high school also has put a tutoring program in place that is mandatory for struggling students.

"I think that we just have some really great things that we already have been putting into place," he said. "I'm very confident that we're going to see big growth."

Steamboat Springs

At Steamboat Springs Mid--dle School, more conversations among teachers and new math curriculum are helping students learn math.

Teachers collaborate on curriculum and work with teachers of other grade levels. That ensures that students are learning what they need to learn in the best way, SSMS Principal Tim Bishop said.

A new math curriculum was used for the first time this year. Not only do textbooks use examples that students can apply to their own lives, but problems build from earlier topics so students don't lose what they've already learned.

The school carefully analyzes each student's performance on standardized tests, and officials talk with students so they understand where they're excelling and where they need to improve.

It's always difficult to predict how students will perform on tests, such as the CSAP, and the goal of the school is that students not only learn their core subjects but also how to be good citizens, Bishop said. But increased scores have excited teachers and others at the school.

At Steamboat Springs High School, officials plan to look carefully at the 10th-grade scores to try to understand why they dipped, Principal Mike Knezevich said.

The school's math program is rigorous, he said. Although students are required to take only 1 1/2 math credits to graduate, they must pass a math proficiency exam. That means that before they leave, they have to know key math concepts. Many students study math for three or four years, Knezevich said.

The school is using a new textbook at the ninth-grade level that uses real-life problems that are interesting to students.

Judy Harris, principal at Soda Creek Elementary School, said she always is cautious when judging test results from just one year. But, she said she thinks the school is seeing the benefits of aligning its resources, including technology tools, computer programs, textbooks and how it's using time and people. The school's fifth-graders increased from 63 percent proficient or advanced to 85 percent proficient or advanced.

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