A less tenacious educator might have passed on such a teaching position. The opening was for a mathematics teacher at a small rural school plagued by seriously limited financial and staffing resources. Some 65 percent of the pre-K–12 school’s total population of 265 students qualified for free/reduced-price lunch programs.
But where another more cautious teacher might have wavered, Missy Berry boldly accepted the challenge—with one stipulation. “I asked the principal for Renaissance Accelerated Math®. In my experience, Accelerated Math facilitates math instruction and practice to help students learn more and progress faster. And the program is a time-saver for teachers.”
So just what can happen when an administrator puts the right learning tools in the hands of a determined teacher? Berry, now the fourth- through sixth-grade math teacher at Granite Public Schools in Granite, Oklahoma, shares her school’s first-year results: “Our students achieved from 8–39 percent improvements on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT). The dramatic growth in math scores across all quartiles helped Granite Elementary School move up a full two letter grades on the Oklahoma State Department of Education annual report card.”
The challenge: Improve math skills in an environment of limited resources
Recruited to help students improve math skills and boost state testing scores, Berry faced seemingly insurmountable challenges. Only one of her classes had achieved a passing performance level on the previous year’s OCCT. Her incoming class of fourth graders scored an average of 57 percent and the sixth-grade class sank to an abysmal 53 percent average.
Continued financial challenges, including cuts in state funding, had also recently compelled the district to adopt a four-day school week with extended hours, leaving Granite teachers less days to complete all curriculum and testing requirements. Granite’s principal stressed that in light of these extenuating circumstances, the district expected growth, though not necessarily a miracle. But Berry resolved to meet or exceed state testing averages. “We know that our primary goal is to ensure students are learning and understand that no child’s achievement is solely reflected in a test score. We do, however, want all of our students to do their best. Teachers need tools that can assist them to more quickly pinpoint areas where students may be struggling. This, in turn, will allow them to more effectively and efficiently target instruction and practice—before they fall further behind.”
Today Granite’s grade 4–8 math teachers use Renaissance Star Math® assessments to analyze skill levels and progress monitor, as well as for guidance in adjusting instructional plans. Star assessment data used in conjunction with Accelerated Math helps teachers identify individual learning requirements and follow up with personalized instruction strategies. Granite Public Schools teachers also use Renaissance Star Reading® and Renaissance Star Early Literacy® assessments.
The results: Dramatic growth, found resources, and a model program
Beating the state averages
Berry needed just one year to help the students make dramatic gains. On the year-end OCCT, both fourth- and sixth-grade classes achieved a remarkable average of 94 and 92 percent, up from 57 and 53 percent respectively. Only one student in each class—with an individual educational plan (IEP) already in place to provide additional assistance—missed achieving a passing grade. Fifth graders attained an 93 percent average. Every class exceeded state averages that ranged from the 70th to 80th percentiles.
Berry reports that mid-way through her second year of teaching a number of students have already mastered current grade-level math objectives. All three of her classrooms have earned Renaissance National Honor Roll status, a national recognition of outstanding math achievement.
But perhaps most compelling are the individual stories of growth and achievement. Berry continues: “Many of my students on IEP plans are now able to spend more time in the general-education classroom. Using Star Math, I can precisely determine skill levels and then use Accelerated Math to assign appropriate grade-level objectives, regardless of the student’s enrollment class. One of my young students, for example, has been able to progress a full grade level while spending the bulk of her time in the general classroom and just 20 minutes twice a week in the special education setting.”
In another case, two boys were so far behind that Berry was already in discussions about holding one back. “We met with their parents, tried detention, and coached them constantly. They felt so far behind they gave up on themselves. What finally worked? I showed them Star reports for the entire class, with all but their own names blocked out. They acknowledged that perhaps their bottom-of-the-class scores reflected effort, not intelligence. This year the boys are the two top-ranked students in their sixth-grade class.”
Berry cites several ways in which Accelerated Math helps make optimal use of limited resources. “Star Math and Accelerated Math information serves as the basis of my parent-teacher conferences—I simply print the appropriate reports to show in detail each student’s standing—advanced, on target, or below—on every objective. Accelerated Math also helps keep classes on track in the event a teacher must be out of the classroom. With no budget for substitutes, our own teachers and aides absorb those classes. Trained on Accelerated Math, they can use the program to keep students working on assigned objectives.
“With the program’s pre-defined objectives and immediate feedback, I no longer spend days grading papers, pouring over problem work to identify specific areas where students need help, or preparing whole-group instruction when a few struggling students would be better served by one-on-one intervention. I also take advantage of the program’s list of students working on the same skills to encourage peer tutoring. Overall the program saves me at least two hours every day.”
Developing a model program
Success has earned Berry an expanding fan base of educators eager to observe her teaching methods and learn best practices for using Renaissance solutions. “Renaissance tools provide unique functionality—like repetition for true mastery of objectives and automatic assignment scoring—that delivers greater value than traditional math curriculum or other e-learning programs. We’ve also found that Renaissance Star assessments provide the most accurate description of student achievement. Last year Star assessments predicted with nearly 100 percent accuracy how our students would perform on state testing, even indicating which students would score in the advanced performance levels.
“Busy teachers may be reluctant to invest the time it takes to employ new tools. I always tell them that if you start using the Renaissance solutions you’ll soon appreciate your own time savings, as well as the pace and new levels of achievement your students can achieve.”