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Florida (FL)  |  Assessment  |  Math  |  Math Motivation  |  Math Practice  |  Success Stories

How focusing on relationships, trust, and communication led to incredible math growth in Polk County Public Schools

Polk County Public Schools

Bartow, FL

The mission of Polk County Public Schools is to provide a high-quality education for all students.

Polk County Public Schools

Challenges

  • Improving student engagement and academic growth
  • Finding and implementing an engaging math program across the entire district and supporting teachers

Solutions

  • Freckle Math
  • Star Assessments

Benefits

  • Engaged students with an authentic interest in math
  • Strong relationships across the district between administrators and teachers
  • An incredible increase in students’ math knowledge and growth, as evidenced by increased scores in Star Assessments

Located in Bartow, Florida, Polk County Public Schools is home to more than 150 schools and 100,000 K–12 students. The seventh-largest school district in Florida, Polk County is considered one of the 30 largest school districts in the nation.

While being one of the largest districts in the state and nation has its advantages, it also comes with several disadvantages. One is the sheer difficulty of implementing new programs and getting teachers across the schools on board with a significant change.

The challenge: “What’s going to help our teachers, as well as our students?”

Kerri Foster, the Curriculum Specialist for K–5 Mathematics at Polk County, helps provide important resources for teachers and administrators in the district, writes curriculum, and does so much more. An important part of her role is also determining which math programs make the most sense for Polk County and its 150 schools.

“In the past, we’ve tried using other math programs,” recalled Foster. “Yet, those math programs always seemed to choose set paths for our students. There wasn’t much opportunity for our teachers to be able to set personalized pathways for students.”

“In the past, we’ve tried using other math programs. Yet, those math programs always seemed to choose set paths for our students.”

Kerri Foster
Curriculum Specialist for K–5 Mathematics, Polk County

With past math programs, teachers couldn’t select specific domains and assign related content. Knowing that the time spent in the classroom with students is precious, Foster and others were looking for something a bit different and personalized. The team wanted a math program that worked for each teacher in the district and aligned to the state standards, skills, and lessons being taught in each Polk County classroom. Teachers needed to be in the driver’s seat, rather than the math program.

The results: Engaged students, strong relationships, and an increase in math knowledge

Freckle Math allowed for the customization and personalization that teachers in the district needed in grades K–5. Freckle Math enables teachers to be proactive rather than reactive. A big difference between Freckle Math and other math programs the district used in the past is the alignment to state standards. Now, teachers at the district can assign math problems to students and rest assured knowing that those problems will align with not just Florida’s state standards, but their instruction as well.

Joe McNaughton, the Senior Director of Mathematics at Polk County, echoes Foster’s points and notes that the rollout of Freckle Math needed to be calculated and thought out.

“We talked about our rollout plan,” said McNaughton. “It was important to give our teachers time to explore Freckle Math and not call out schools or teachers about their usage because we knew the usage would naturally come with time.”

Foster and McNaughton both also acknowledge that it was important that the district provided support and guidance, but ultimately gave teachers the freedom to use Freckle Math as it made sense in their unique classrooms. Both credit the relationships, trust, and communication for the success of Freckle Math in Polk County.

And just don’t take their word for it. Students’ assessment data reveals definite gains.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I was so disappointed we didn’t have state testing this spring,” said McNaughton. “According to our last benchmark results with Star Assessments, we were looking at 78–80 percent of our third-grade students being proficient in math. That’s huge.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I was so disappointed we didn’t have state testing this spring.”

Joe McNaughton
Senior Director of Mathematics, Polk County

While Freckle Math can’t take sole responsibility for the jump, McNaughton notes it was an important component. A few months into the initial rollout, Foster and McNaughton realized that students in several schools across the district were using Freckle Math a lot, including on the weekends—an added bonus.

“I mean, I was afraid we were using Freckle Math too much,” laughed McNaughton.

And he’s right. Compared to the initial fall benchmark results with Star Assessments, the number of students in the “On Watch”, “Intervention”, or “Urgent Intervention” categories dropped significantly in the winter, while the number of students that tested “At/Above” increased across all grades levels. Students were on track to beat those already impressive results this past spring.

Fall Screening Categories
Winter Screening Categories

Data from Star Math highlights the number of students that tested “At/Above” in grades 1–5 during the 2018–2019 school year.

While the spring semester was cut short and state testing was canceled due to the pandemic, Polk County is making sure students have access to devices and the internet over the summer months, as well as important programs like Freckle Math. Knowing their student population is diverse and comes from different backgrounds and situations, the district deployed more than 30,000 devices and 52 mobile hotspots.

Freckle Math—which was accessed more than any other program in the district during the pandemic—is one of those crucial pieces to ensuring equity at Polk County and will be important in the coming months. The pandemic presents significant challenges, but Foster and McNaughton both recognize the importance of keeping up the solid progress with Freckle Math and continuing to close learning gaps and providing educational equity.

While it’s unclear what school will look like this fall, Foster and McNaughton, along with the rest of the entire district, are excited to welcome students back and introduce a whole group of new students to Freckle Math—in-person or online.

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