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FDCSD discusses math proficiency

Wood: Trendlines are ‘flat’ at most grade levels

August 28, 2012
Messenger News




The Fort Dodge Community School District showed growth in reading proficiency on the Iowa Assessments, but did not perform so well in math.

The FDCSD board learned more Monday about the district's performance in the exams, taken in May before the end of the 2011-2012 school year.

Sue Wood, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, explained to the board Aug. 13 that the district showed growth in the reading. The district did not perform so well, though, in math proficiency.

"The trend in math is different from the trend in reading," Wood said.

According to Wood, the average standard score does show proficiency. In third grade, for instance, the district's students achieved an average 182.8 standard score, with proficiency demonstrated at a score of 177.

"On average, our students were higher than the proficiency scores in math," she said.

In terms of percent proficient, though, the school district continued to show a decline.

"Sometimes, the higher students bring up that average," Wood explained.

The trendlines, Wood said, have "been flat in the area of math" across most grades.

One problem is the new test, Wood said. Last year, the state switched from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to Iowa Assessments, which has affected results and comparisons to previous years. There is still, though, a problem.

Wood said the math curriculum is being revised in response.

"We've got to do some work in math," she said. "We are making concentrated efforts on math this year."

One new approach to teaching math in the elementary schools is cognitively guided instruction, or CGI.

"It takes a look at how students solve problems," Wood said. "I'm not talking about algorithms, but rather being able to deconstruct numbers. They get that basic understanding of what numbers do."

Studying algorithms, such as memorizing times tables, isn't as effective in teaching how numbers are used, Wood said, particularly in more advanced classes.

"If students just use algorithms, they're good in math until they reach Algebra 2, and then their achievement falls," she said. "You have to teach these kids what numbers really do."

CGI is already being implemented in kindergarten classes. Wood showed a video of a student at Duncombe Elementary using the method to figure out a math problem: If you plant five seeds each in six holes, how many seeds did you plant total? The student linked plastic bricks in fives, six times, until she had 30, basically, a form of multiplication. The student was also able to write her solution as a number sentence.

The skills demonstrated were impressive for a kindergarten student, Wood said.

"These kids are gaining a lot of number sense. It's all about cognitively thinking about the problem," she said.

Phillips Middle School, meanwhile, is using Response to Intervention, or RTI, to improve student performance. Students facing similar areas of difficulty in a subject are grouped together and given further instruction. RTI is applied to all subjects.

Laura Libby, an instructor at Phillips, continued the program last school year with success. At the start of the semester, 50 percent of the students needed RTI. By the end of the semester, the number had been reduced by 15 percent, she said.

"It takes time. It takes a lot of data," Libby said.



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