Leadership Public Schools and Riverside Unified School District – FlexMath and Algebra 1


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 wordpressmigrate 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.

The Assessment

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.

Target Population

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.

Initial Results- 2009

The initial pilot campus for the FlexMath program was LPS Hayward. The initial pilot year was 2009. The pilot followed a year of intensive staff development, which is a mitigating factor worth mentioning, so that background follows. In 2007 LPS Hayward had never seen even a single student achieve a score of “Advanced” on the Algebra CST. That year 13% of LPS Hayward 9th-graders scored “Proficient”, making their total passing rate 13%. Between the 2007 and 2008 CST results, LPS Hayward embarked on an intensive faculty-based intervention which included retention of excellent teachers and retraining focused both on pedagogy and classroom management. The result in 2008 was that LPS Hayward improved to 23% passing , while the California passing rate remained idle at 18% passing. This was the first year LPS had ever bested the state average, and also the first year LPS had students scoring “Advanced”, in that 3% (two total students) achieved this distinction. The jump from 13% in 2007 to 23% in 2008 represented a significant gain for LPS Hayward, but even at that, so depressed was the overall passing rate that intervention remained a top priority. As before, key staff was retained, but the next year’s intervention would be student-based. With a goal of improving the passing rate to 30%, and a few even expressing outside hopes of possibly approaching the 40% range, the FlexMath program was initiated. That year all students enrolled in Algebra were concurrently enrolled in an intervention class with technology as its centerpiece. In August of 2009 California published the CST results of this intervention. That year 25% of LPS Hayward 9th-grade students scored “Advanced”, with another 31% scoring proficient, for an overall passing rate of 56%. The gain from 13% passing in 2007, to 56% passing in 2009, with a full quarter of the population scoring “Advanced”, remained absolutely without precedent in this data segment, until it was duplicated in 2011 by new pilot schools. In 2009, among 9th-grade Algebra students, 79 other California high schools outperformed LPS Hayward, but none shared similar demographic characteristics, and none made the kind of achievement gains this passing rate represents. Among students scoring “Advanced”, only 20 other high schools in the state outpaced the 25% mark achieved by the students of LPS Hayward. Regarding demographic control, in this same year (2009) a comprehensive high school immediately across the street, drawing from and serving an identical student population, achieved a 3% Algebra passing rate.

Secondary Results- 2010

During the 2009-2010 academic year no further pilot studies were initiated. This time was spent developing the FlexMath program into a more complete curriculum appropriate for scaling to a larger community of users. LPS Hayward continued using the FlexMath program as development progressed, though this year without he benefit of experience teachers. A formal study might have sufficient control to conclude that the gains from the 2008 faculty-based intervention could be now subtracted from the overall Algebra 2010 CST results as a result of staff turnover. This examination lacks any control over such factors. In 2010 the LPS Hayward passing rate on the Algebra CST increased slightly to 58%. While the passing rate that year did notch up by 2%, the rate of students scoring “Advanced” fell to 20%.

Results of Expanded Pilots- 2011

In 2011 LPS Hayward was joined in the FlexMath pilot by a sister school in Richmond, CA: Leadership Public School Richmond. Another Hayward charter high school, Impact Academy of Arts and Technology, also elected to pilot the FlexMath program in 2011. Finally, Riverside Unified School District asked teachers from Sierra Middle School to informally incorporate the FlexMath program into their instruction. All four schools saw noteworthy increases in their Algebra passing rate. LPS Richmond saw the greatest single-year gains at a 152% improvement from 2010 to 2011. In 2010 LPS Richmond had a passing rate of 29%, with 3% of those students scoring “Advanced”. The challenging environment in which this campus resides made this rate already among the best compared to similar schools. But in 2011 the LPS Richmond passing rate for 9th-grade Algebra students increased to 73% with a full 30% of students scoring “Advanced”. Compared to all schools in California, this passing rate made LPS Richmond 10th-best in the state (out of more than 2500 high school). Despit another year of all new teachers, LPS Hayward saw their passing rate increase again from 58% in 2010 to 68% in 2011. Compared to all schools in California, this passing rate made LPS Hayward 20th-best in the state. This latest gain brings their total increase since the beginning of the FlexMath program to an overall gain of plus 423%- from 13% in 2007 to 68% in 2011. Impact Academy of Arts and Technology (a member of the Envision charter network) had the smallest single year gain of any pilot school at 89%. The passing rate at Impact Academy increased from 28% in 2010 to 53% in 2011. The number of students at this campus scoring “Advanced” increased nine-fold over the previous year. Sierra Middle School in the Riverside Unified School Distrct presents a slightly different picture, since their target population was 8th-graders. 7th- and 8th-graders taking Algebra tend to pass STAR testing at significantly higher rates than 9th-graders, possibly because those students are at or above grade level. If we exclude the 7th-graders from the data (97% of whom passed the exam- up from 88% the previous year), we are left with a class of 8th-grade students whose passing rate increased 119% over the previous year. At Sierra Middle School, the Algebra passing rate for 8th-graders increased from 31% in 2010 to 68% in 2011.