Parents exploring how St. Charles Unit District 303 will try to increase student achievement at the Davis and Richmond grade level centers learned Thursday the old ways of teaching math no longer add up to success.
While 77 percent of district students meet or exceed ISAT math standards, only 57 percent of the grade level center students hit those marks. Special education, limited-English and economically disadvantaged students at the grade level centers also scored lower on math tests than their peer groups districtwide.
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Parents attending the second district meeting on the new learning plan for Davis and Richmond expressed both surprise and concern about the extent of those achievement gaps.
But math scores at the grade level centers is just one area where district staff members are developing an improvement plan as the result of a recent judge's ruling in a lawsuit regarding the creation of the grade level centers. The judge ruled creating the grade level centers was not illegal, but that change alone did not adequately address the groups of students labeled as "failing" under No Child Left Behind Act standards. Now the district must present a new plan to the judge for how the district will help those failing student groups achieve better test scores.
Parents learned the math tests themselves have changed.
"The new assessments that are coming out aren't the ABCD tests that I took," said Michelle Fitzgerald, the district's executive director for instructional support. "Students are going to have to analyze. They are going to have to have that deep understanding of math."
In other words, on many of the tests there is no multiple choice. Students must perform the actual addition, subtraction or correct formula and type the numerical answer into a box.
In Davis and Richmond classrooms, that means critical thinking, group work and real-world problem solving are now the hallmarks of getting a good math education. Students are encouraged to talk to each other in small groups and critique answers in front of the whole class.
"We used to give formulas to a student," Fitzgerald said. "The area of a triangle is one-half base times height. But they didn't know why. Well, one, it's because a triangle is one half of a rectangle, the area of which is base times height. We want students to know how to solve a problem without needing the teacher to tell them. They should be given an opportunity to see math in the real world."
Parents encouraged the district staff to make them better informed about what the learning goals are and how parents can reinforce the teachings at home. Spanish-speaking parents also requested more translation of school materials be made available so they can also help their students.
Thursday's meeting was the final parent/community engagement session the district will host about the improvement plans. District staff members will spend Feb. 11-19 writing the new school improvement plans that will be presented to the judge.
A school board committee will get its first look at the plans on Feb. 27. Then the full board will review the plans on March 10.