Responding to low and historically stagnant Algebra STAR scores, Leadership Public Schools (LPS) instituted an intervention program on their Hayward campus during the 2008 – 2009 academic year. The program targeted all 9th-grade students enrolled in Algebra, supporting them with a concurrent enrollment math intervention class. Equipped with 32 computer workstations, this support class featured a discovery-based curriculum which leveraged technology to both facilitate open-ended exploration while also creating precise mastery of essential algebraic mechanics. Though only partially developed at the time, the results of this approach exceeded even the most optimistic growth targets for this population, delivering gains on a scale never before achieved with struggling Algebra learners. Since that initial pilot, with support from the CK-12 Foundation (http://www.ck12.org/flexbook/), the FlexMath instructional program has been developed into a full beta release which was further piloted during the 2010-2011 academic year by LPS Richmond, Envision Public Schools, and even a middle school- Sierra Middle School in Riverside Unified School District. CST results in August of 2011 revealed each pilot produced consistent performance gains for targeted students at a levels that place these schools among the top 100 in the state for 9th-grade Algebra proficiency, and at the absolute top compared to demographically similar schools.
California’s end-of-year Algebra 1 standardized assessment, the “Algebra CST”, assesses students on the Algebra standards of Claifornia which are prescribed to be mastered. The exam is administered by the state to each enrolled student at the end of any Algebra course at a school which receives state funding. The exam divides students into five performance bands: “Advanced”, “Proficient”, “Basic”, “Below Basic”, and “Far Below Basic”. Students are considered to have passed the assessment if their score places them in the “Advanced” or “Proficient” performance bands. Normally, among all California’s 9th grade students, around 20% of students pass the exam. In a typical year, about 2% of 9th-graders will score “Advanced”, with an additional 18% scoring “Proficient”. While the scores of pilot schools have increased over the past year, it is worth noting that the overall passing rate on the Algebra CST has also been in the rise in recent years. Since 2007 the percent of California 9th-grade students passing (scoring “Proficient” or “Advanced”) the Algebra CST has trended upward at a rate of about 1% per year, reaching an all-time high of 23% in 2011.
The students targeted for intensive support in each pilot were 9th-graders enrolled concurrently in Algebra. Sierra Middle School presents the solitary exception, where target students were 8th-graders taking Algebra. The goal of this intervention was to produce a solution to the intractable and destructive pattern of summative failure among the vast majority of California 9th-grade Algebra students. Consequently, with the exception of Sierra Middle School, the most informative cross-section of data will compare targeted students to other 9th-graders taking the Algebra 1 CST in California. Further insight might also be possible by examining students of similar background either economically, ethnically, or both. An examination of student results from schools in close proximity to the pilot schools could offer a reasonable demographic control, though such an examination would exclude factors like self-selection bias, teacher efficacy, school culture, etc. Since perfect control cannot be accomplished, the results in this report focus on longitudinal data at the pilot schools as well as a simple “apples-to-apples” comparison examining pilot 9th-graders enrolled in Algebra, contrasted with all California 9th-graders enrolled in Algebra. These students represent California’s most urgent academic crisis, as they linger just one year behind grade level, and at the doorway of educational enfranchisement, but they fail at extraordinary rates, with reverberations across their entire academic futures.