When Kingman Unified middle school students returned from Christmas break, they were met with a surprise - a new class focused on nothing but practicing the fundamentals of math.
White Cliffs and Kingman middle schools shaved minutes off of each of their six periods in order to create a 25-35 minute block of time to be used for a class known as "daily math skills."
District officials realized that low math scores by middle school students on the Arizona Instrument for Measuring Standards and on quarterly benchmark exams were coming from the fact that students hadn't mastered the fundamentals when they were younger.
"Students hit those fundamentals in elementary school," said Jeri Wolsey, KUSD's curriculum director. But then they moved on to middle school and those fundamentals became a thing of the past, she said.
Strong elementary math scores on standardized exams tricked the district into believing that students had a solid grasp of the concepts, but many of those same students moved into middle school and immediately began struggling with math.
"We realized that we needed to look further back," Wolsey said.
That's when the district realized that students weren't grasping concepts because they had used repetitive memorization to work their way through elementary school, Wolsey said.
Something needed to change, and the implementation of daily math skills is one of the first steps toward that change.
It's 10 a.m. Tuesday at White Cliffs Middle School, and students are moving through the hallways toward third period, which for all days but Wednesday is now dedicated to daily math skills. It's loud and there's a lot of movement, but the teachers are standing at their doors welcoming the students into their classrooms.
The daily math skills class lasts 25 minutes at WCMS and takes place every day of the week except Wednesday. It's the second week of the class and some students are still adapting to the new schedule.
"Crap, it's third period," said one student as he entered a class and immediately turned around, realizing he was in the wrong place.
Students sit down and once the bell rings they start working on a sheet of practice questions which are tied to the concept of the week. This week's concept is multiplying and dividing whole numbers.
The students get exactly two minutes to finish the practice sheet. Then they get another two minutes to go over their answers in two-person groups.
The pairing of students is not random, said Cliff Angle, the school's principal. The school matches students at different levels with each other. For example, a student who scored really well on the quarterly assessments is paired with a student with mediocre scores. Other students with average scores are grouped with students with low scores, which allows students to help each other without having to bridge a large understanding gap, Angle said.
Once the collaboration segment is complete, the students move into the assessment portion of the class. Since students are practicing one concept per week, they're able to better track their own progress. But it allows the school to track their progress as well.
The complied data puts the schools in a better position to target deficiencies and prescribe focused tutoring, Angle said.
Once needs are identified, parents are contacted and the issues and potential solutions are explained.
"The sole purpose (of the program) is for students to basically practice their accuracy and fluency in math," Angle said.
All teachers at White Cliffs are facilitating the "daily math skills" classes even if they're not math teachers.
Each day is scripted, and one can hear the teachers in each classroom going through the exact same process just by standing in the halls.
There's even a friendly competition between each of the classrooms. The class that shows the most growth from Monday to Friday of each week earns prizes during the following week.
"These tests show what kids have truly mastered," Wolsey said.
The idea for daily math skills comes from Beyond Textbooks, a curriculum plan created by the Vail School District near Tucson. Beyond Textbooks prioritizes standards and unwraps them, offers a way for schools within a district to all be on the same page and working toward a common goal and focuses on identifying problems and solving them before students move on to the next grade.
Wolsey said KUSD is a partner school with Beyond Textbooks and plans to implement all the facets of the program at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
But for now, the program's implementation is limited to daily math skills at the two district middle schools.
Though a program such as this is aimed at helping the district improve its state-issued grades - which are based on student growth and AIMS scores - Wolsey believes it's bigger than that. Mastery of basic concepts is what is expected of students when they graduate from high school and move onto college, she said.
Wolsey hopes this type of program becomes the norm at KUSD because she sees it as an opportunity to move away from surface learning and focus on providing a more robust curriculum.
The days of learning a concept and moving on are ending, and Wolsey couldn't be happier about it.
"I think that's where we were falling down (as a district)," Wolsey said.
By Ahron Sherman
Source: Kingman Daily Miner - http://goo.gl/h2Vo0