At the beginning of the school year, skeptical parents worried that their own math deficiencies might foreshadow similar difficulties for their children just entering sixth grade. Those fears turned out to be wildly unfounded. By the end of the year, their sixth graders had collectively mastered more than 2,000 grade-level or higher math objectives. Overall, the class of 20 averaged a five-grade-level jump in skillsets, with six students finishing in the 99th percentile and more than half ranking in the 90th percentile or higher on Renaissance Star Math® assessments.
Angela Larkin and Laura West teach sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade mathematics at Norman S. Weir elementary school in Paterson, New Jersey. “I always assure parents that math difficulties are not hereditary!” quips Larkin. “But many students do struggle with making the transition to the abstract math concepts they’re required to learn in middle school. To make sure they’re successful, we rely on Renaissance solutions that help us quickly assess skill levels, set challenging but achievable goals, and differentiate instruction to keep every student on a path to grade-level mastery.”
West says the proof is in the results, citing this year’s Star assessments that predicted with 100 percent accuracy how students would perform on the New Jersey Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams. “We also use Renaissance Accelerated Math® to help each student develop a habit of daily achievement. The program has been very effective in pinpointing the skills and subskills students need to develop as a prelude to mastering more difficult concepts. Our students consistently demonstrate proficiency in algebra, problem-solving, and other high-level math exercises. This year, three of our four sixth- through eighth-grade math classes achieved honor roll, and students earned Gold Level status in the MathCounts National Math Club program.”
The challenge: Improve student achievement through interim assessments and differentiated instruction
Norman S. Weir elementary is part of the urban Paterson Public School District. Paterson schools have standardized Renaissance assessment applications, and the district funds Star Math and Renaissance Star Reading® for formative assessment and progress monitoring.
Larkin explains that while the district also originally purchased Accelerated Math, financial responsibility was recently handed back to individual schools. When her own school faced a budget shortfall, Larkin entered an essay contest, hoping to contribute any winnings to Accelerated Math licenses. She won, and her prize money funded the application. “I just knew that we needed the program to enable differentiated instruction, to help motivate students, and to keep parents up-to-date on the progress their children are making with math practice.”
The results: Personalized learning, predictable progress, and lifelong enthusiasm for math
Renaissance solutions help Larkin and West personalize learning to meet the unique needs of each student. In the fall, they use Star assessment data to set individual goals with timelines for achievement, and Accelerated Math to produce daily, personalized assignments that target practice for mastering specific skills or to remediate problem areas. “We make extensive use of Accelerated Math,” continues West, “using it as an intervention tool, to create demonstrations of learning exercises, and as a critical element of daily classroom instruction for developing relevant homework and whole-class assignments.”
Larkin emphasizes that student involvement is key to success. “Early on, we teach them how to read their own Accelerated Math TOPS reports. They can immediately see their most recent quiz results as well as progress toward individual objectives and longer-term goals, such as honor roll.”
Displaying Star charts that show both class and individual progress towards goals sparks a bit of healthy competition. “The charts do not identify the specific grade levels of objectives,” West explains, “but rather illustrate the progress each student is making at an individualized level. Comparing their own progress against their classmates and other math classes serves as strong motivation. It isn’t long into the school year before they take ownership of their own goal-setting, pushing to master more objectives.”
Using the Star assessments together with Accelerated Math helps Larkin and West much more quickly individualize the pace of learning and adjust instructional approaches to best serve each student. “For a two-hour investment spent setting up the program in the fall, we save at least 100 hours of planning throughout the year,” comments Larkin. “Without the Renaissance resources, it would be nearly impossible to individualize learning for 65 or more students.”
Always on track
Star assessments provide district educators with reliable data for setting student growth objectives and measuring within-year growth for required evaluation processes. Star percentile rankings also factor into the district’s retention policies. “Star data is invaluable in ensuring students stay on track to achieve grade-level objectives and advance to the next grade,” West states. “The assessments also serve as a tool for communicating with parents, showing them exactly where a student is currently performing and the path they need to follow to receive a passing grade by year end.”
I’m going to do math for the rest of my life!
Now in their fourth full year of using Accelerated Math, Larkin and West continue to tally impressive results, including these most recent achievements:
Six students achieved the highest-possible score for math on PARCC exams.
100 percent of Algebra I students passed the state test.
Graduating eighth graders made honor roll three years in a row.
Over one year, seventh graders boosted their average Star ranking from the 75th to the 84th percentile; students grew substantially, with three students finishing the year at grade level and 19 finishing at a 10th grade equivalency.
Sixth graders improved by 14 percent, jumping in one year from the 65th to the 79th percentile.
Seventh graders took first place in the district’s Math Olympics.
But perhaps these teachers’ best indicators of success are their students’ enthusiasm for math. Each year, Larkin asks her departing sixth graders to write letters offering words of wisdom to incoming students. The most common subject? Accelerated Math and how to accomplish more objectives. “Try getting at least 100,” advises one student. Graduating eighth graders send thank-you notes to their teachers. “When I go to college, I’m going to do accounting,” boasted one. Another wrote, “You inspired me to do math for the rest of my life!”
Such results and sentiments should prove to parents who are insecure in their own abilities that their children, given the right tools, teachers, and encouragement, can indeed be fantastic at math!