Thursday, April 17, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

In Minn., extra push to pass math skills test

Dan Conway

In this Jan. 10, 2013 photo, Chatfield High School seniors Justine Miller, left, and Alex Schultz work on math skills in Dan Conway's Advanced General Mathematics class in Chatfield, Minn. The class is designed for students who aren't ready for pre-calculus. The class is part of the data team's multi-faceted approach that also includes some one-on-one time. (AP Photo/Rochester Post-Bulletin, John Weiss)

CHATFIELD, Minn. — Roman Broadwater can do the math. He understands that he will need math skills when he owns his own grocery store. But, so far, the Chatfield High School senior has failed the state test three times.

“I know I’m really good at math. Math comes very, very easy to me,” he said. “I just don’t understand the online calculator.” That calculator is so different from his own.

He’s confident he will pass when he takes the test again later this year thanks to some extra help dealing with that frustrating calculator from the school’s Math Data Team.

Late last week, Broadwater worked on problems in Dan Conway’s Advanced General Mathematics class, which is designed for students who aren’t ready for pre-calculus. The class is part of the data team’s multi-faceted approach that also includes some one-on-one time.

With extra help from the Math Data Team, all but four of the school’s 54 seniors have passed the state math test, the Post-Bulletin of Rochester reported. Students first took the test as juniors in April. Those who didn’t pass were given extra help, and more have since passed.

State law allows that any student who fails the test three times automatically gets to graduate, but Principal Randy Paulson said that’s not good enough.

“We didn’t want our kids to pass by default,” he said. “We wanted them to pass the test.”

The school had hoped to get at least 75 percent to pass; instead, 93 percent have passed, and the percentage could rise.

The team was created by math teachers Conway, Jeff DeBuhr and Mitch Lee.

“We weren’t satisfied with what we were doing,” Conway said.

“There have been more and more tests thrown at the kids,” Lee said. “If there are all those tests, can’t we use them to go somewhere?”

They decided to form the data team to figure out why students didn’t pass and then fix the problems. It could have been that there were gaps in what a student knew (teachers worked with lower grade teachers to fill those gaps), or maybe a student had test anxiety or, like Broadwater, there was a problem with something in the test.

Part of the solution was also to motivate students to not just take the test three times and call it quits. Anyone who passed the test got an extra half-hour for lunch instead of having to be in study hall.

“Little things like that really do matter,” DeBuhr said.

The teachers also tried to point out to students why learning math would help them later in life in solving all kinds of problems.

“In math, there are a hundred ways to ask the same question,” Lee said. That’s one of the skills they teach – showing students that they knew the answer, they just didn’t understand the question.

Fellow seniors became cheerleaders, encouraging those who failed to work harder, DeBuhr said. And those who needed to take the test again pushed harder. They didn’t feel there was a stigma.

In fact, DeBuhr said the true credit lies with the students.

“That’s where the most credit goes,” he said. “That could have dug in their heels” but instead, accepted the challenge.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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