Improving DuPage scores show 'teaching math finally makes sense'
Students at many West suburban elementary schools are showing more growth in math than in reading despite new math standards educators say are more rigorous.
Math scores showed improvement at 18 elementary schools in the Daily Herald's circulation area in DuPage County, according to school report card results released today by the Illinois State Board of Education.
At several of the schools where math scores improved, educators attributed the growth to the use of new math curriculum programs that have been aligned to the Common Core state standards.
Despite a more difficult test this spring -- one that contained 100 percent Common Core-aligned questions instead of last year's 20 percent -- elementary schools Fry, Brooks, Builta, White Eagle, Brookdale and Cowlishaw in Naperville-Aurora; Western Trails in Carol Stream; and Turner and Gary in West Chicago all showed improving math scores this year.
"We showed growth in math in spite of the introduction of all Common Core items," said Patrick Nolten, executive director of research and assessment for Indian Prairie Unit District 204 in Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield. "People were predicting all doom and gloom, but we didn't see that."
The data that shows math scores are improving come from a new statistic the state board of education reported for the first time last year. Called "growth scores" or "growth metrics," these figures are calculated to show whether students at a school or district are progressing toward exceeding state standards for reading and math or if they're heading in the opposite direction.
The scores compare a student's performance this year with his or her performance last year, then average each student's individual growth score out to the school and district level.
Any score higher than 100 shows student test results are improving, but a score lower than 100 shows test performance is declining and students are not making progress toward exceeding standards.
Fry Elementary recorded a growth score for math of 122.4 -- one of the highest in the county. Western Trails had a growth score of 120.8, while Turner and Gary earned growth scores of 120.4 and 119.9, respectively.
Nolten said successful growth scores show new ways of teaching math are more effective for more kids.
"We generally attribute our math growth to the fact that we're in the third year of implementing the Common Core-aligned math curriculum across the district," Nolten said. "So we're starting to see the benefits of that."
Math 'makes sense'
One commonality among those schools -- aside from their growth in math scores -- is they all implemented new curricula in math before they updated their reading and language arts curricula.
When districts learned of the upcoming switch to the Common Core state standards, which are more challenging to better prepare students for college and careers, many chose to adjust their lessons one subject at a time.
Kristina Davis, assistant superintendent for learning at West Chicago Elementary District 33, said she's pleased to see growing math scores prove the new math curriculum the district has been using for three years is working. Students in first, second and third grade now have been taught Common Core-aligned math the entire time they've been in the district.
"Teaching math finally makes sense to me with the Common Core," Davis said. "We're looking for those indicators that tell us that our curriculum is more effective."
Educators say math teaching methods now focus on understanding how to find the right solution instead of memorizing multiplication tables and addition answers. Teachers now emphasize working collaboratively on a couple of difficult math problems that apply to real-life situations instead of speeding through work sheets full of repetitive, basic problems.
"Teachers are learning how to teach new strategies, and students are learning it's OK to arrive at the answer in more than one way," Davis said. "We're more interested in the thinking that went into the problem than just the answer."
In District 204, Chief Academic Officer Kathy Duncan said elements of "algebraic thinking" now are introduced as early as kindergarten under a new math curriculum that's also been in place for three years.
"No longer are you able to just memorize a set of facts," she said. "You have to really understand why that answer is right, how you got to that answer and how knowing that part of mathematics applies to other parts of mathematics. It's a far deeper understanding."
The work of teachers to adjust to the new Common Core math lessons is the main explanation districts offer for growth in math, but Districts 33 and 93 also have changed the way they help students who are struggling.
Davis said elementary principals in District 33 restructured the schedule before last school year to allow an additional half-hour for students to get extra help or more challenging work in math. The half-hour of reteaching or enrichment adds to the hourlong math lesson students receive each day.
In District 93, students identified as needing assistance with math get extra attention before new concepts are introduced in class, said Marie Hoffman, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
"We're preteaching kids. We're making sure they understand the concepts behind what they're going to learn before they learn it," Hoffman said. "We're really looking at giving them a double dose of what they're going to be learning in the classroom."
DuPage math scoresGrowth metrics gauge how much or how little progress is made on standardized tests. Students' individual scores in spring 2014 are compared to those from last year, and all are added up and averaged for a school or district. Any score lower than 100 represents a decline in scores. Schools with most growth1. Madison Elementary, Hinsdale District 181: 123.3
2. Oak Elementary, District 181: 122.5
3. Fry Elementary, Indian Prairie Unit District 204: 122.4
4. Park View Elementary, Lombard District 44: 122.1
5. Manor Hill Elementary, Lombard District 44: 121.7
6. Brooks Elementary, District 204: 121.5
7. Builta Elementary, District 204: 121.4
8. Prospect Elementary, Hinsdale District 181: 121.3
9. Monroe Elementary, Hinsdale District 181: 121.0
10. Western Trails Elementary, Carol Stream District 93: 120.8
Schools with least growth1. Lake Park Elementary, Addison District 4: 94.3
2. Marquardt Middle School, Queen Bee District 15: 94.5
3. North Elementary, Villa Park-Lombard District 45: 95.6
4. Lincoln Elementary, Addison District 4: 96.3
5. Jay Stream Middle School, Carol Stream District 93: 97.2
6. Lisle Junior High, Lisle Unit District 202: 98.4
7. Schaefer Elementary, Villa Park-Lombard District 45: 98.5
8. Ardmore Elementary, Villa Park-Lombard District 45: 99.1
9. Clifford Johnson Elementary, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200: 99.6
10. Indian Trail Junior High, Addison District 4: 99.8
* Note: List includes schools in the Daily Herald's circulation area