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Raising the bar

A Crook County School District task force is undertaking the challenge of refining and changing the math curriculum and time allotments to raise math scores

by: RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Grace Deboodt’s fifth grade class at Ochoco Elementary work on division “flashcards” using the school classroom set of Google Chrome laptops. The students have learned how to log into their accounts, and they are using a “division flashcard” application. They practice their grade level appropriate division facts using the technology, which Deboodt indicated is good way to engage and motivate students. Deboodt said she uses the Google applications for her math intervention class, her regular benchmark core curriculum math class, and to teach keyboarding and writing skills.

Crook County Schools are in the process of making some big changes in their math curriculum — mostly at the elementary levels.
   The Crook County School District has strived for the past several years to improve math scores, which have lagged behind state averages. The middle school and the high school have turned the tide however, with steady gains over the past five years. Crook County Middle School was in the 90th percentile for growth in math for the state or Oregon last year. Crook County High School has steadily improved their math scores, with 49 percent in 2009-2009, 56 percent in 2009-2010, and 70 percent for the past two years.
   “There is a clear pattern that we are lagging behind in math performance,” commented Crook County School District Superintendent Duane Yecha, when referring to the pattern of OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) math scores at the elementary levels for CCSD.
   He added that the students are catching up at the middle and high school levels, but are behind at the lower grade levels.
   Yecha assigned Crooked River Elementary School Principal Cheri Rasmussen to lead a task force to find what is currently working and what needs to improve in their elementary math departments. He indicated that the administration sat down with building teams and instructional coaches and classroom teachers to strive to build on the strategies that are currently working and improve upon those that are not working.
   “We owe it to our children to improve these math scores,” remarked Yecha.
   Rasmussen said that the question that is paramount is why the elementary levels are so much lower than the comparable school districts and the state averages. She added that her biggest concern is the fact that the district has worked very hard on their reading improvement, but the amount of time for math is a two-to-one ratio on the time allotted for reading compared to math.
   “We have spent a tremendous amount of time really getting our reading scores up, and we have had a tremendous amount of professional development in the reading areas,” commented Rasmussen. “In the math area, we don’t have the professional development out there, and we don’t have the intervention system set up as well as we do for reading.
    “We spend two hours per day with reading and one hour per day with math,” she went on to explain. “How do we balance keeping our reading scores up, and continue with all the great work there and all the improvements that we have made and the interventions that we do while still trying to find more time for math and teaching our curriculum with more fidelity and more understanding?”
   She said they have started to work really hard on aligning their curriculum that has been adopted to the common core standards and the Oregon teaching standards, as well as the OAKS test. She added that they have begun to do more walk-throughs to other schools for their instructors. They have also had the building coaches put together data and help their teams to improve schedules and find more efficient ways to teach the curriculum in the time allotment that they have available to them.
   “Oftentimes, we go through our standards and our curriculum, but they don’t necessarily align to the OAKS test questions,” noted Rasmussen.
   She said that it is really important that teachers administer OAKS practice tests prior to having their students take the OAKS tests.
   “We do not necessarily teach our curriculum with the same verbiage as the OAKS test.”
    She added that the vocabulary needs to match the OAKS vocabulary so that the same question can be asked, but the students will understand the vocabulary. Another challenge regarding the math OAKS test at the third grade level is the fact that it is dominated by fractions, which have been taught at the elementary level in the CCSD at the end of the year — often after the OAKS test.
   “What we have done is revamp the fraction unit,” said Rasmussen. She said that Ochoco and Crooked River have partnered together and put together a packet of curriculum that will be taught previous to the OAKS test.
   Ochoco Elementary Principal Dave Robinson said that they will continue to look at their math data through the RTI (Response to Intervention) program, and focus on individual student needs. He noted that RTI is a process of assessing students, looking at weaknesses, and designing instruction for students based on their needs.
   “It is really a great system of assessment, refining and reading that assessment and interpreting it, and then designing your actions to correspond with that,” remarked Robinson.
   He said they are also looking into software called Study Island, which is a provider of web-based state assessment preparation programs and standards-based learning programs. The software can be accessed anywhere that there is an internet connection, which allows students to use it at school as well as at home with parental involvement. Robinson also pointed out that they can use their Chrome laptop lab to access other math study programs, such as the one that a fifth-grade instructor was using on Wednesday to help her students to study their division unit.
   He added that his teachers use an online calendar to sign up to use the lab, and so far, it is booked solid.
   This school year, the district received some additional Title I dollars for the elementary schools. Cecil Sly Elementary Principal Jim Bates said the choice was made collaboratively by all three schools to share an interventionist to teach RTI to under-performing students, as well as to the Talented and Gifted (TAG) groups of students.
   Rasmussen said that some of the future plans to improve fidelity to the math core include more professional development, all-day kindergarten, smarter balance assessments, more access to the Study Island software, and improving RTI implementation and becoming more efficient with the application.