By: Carissa Zawiski/Sophomore Writer and Kyra Powell/Content Editor
When the 2018 PSSA and Keystone results were published this year, Blue Ridge students performed very well in language arts and science, but not as well in math. As a result, administrators came up with a plan to fill in student learning gaps. That plan includes a supplemental math class for the middle and high school students, along with the continued use of Carnegie Learning©, an online course that has been part of the curriculum for several years. As a result, middle school students rotate the new class with their history class every other day, and high school students rotate the class with an elective every other day.
The supplemental class does not replace the regular math class, but is an addition to the students’ schedule which was implemented, according to the Blue Ridge Superintendent Matthew Button, “because there is a need for students to have an increased amount of time to improve their skills in the math curriculum.”
For 2018, 207 Blue Ridge students took the PSSA state-mandated math test in grades 3, 4 and 5 with averaged score results as follows: 20.8% advanced; 34.3% proficient; 25.1% basic level, and 19.8 below basic. In comparison the averaged overall scores for the same grades and for all schools state-wide, (261,912 total students) as published on the Pennsylvania Department of Education site, are: 19.4% advanced; 28.21% proficient; 24.73% basic, and 27.66% below basic.
Out of 58 Blue Ridge students who took the 2018 Keystone state-mandated Algebra I test, 10.3% scored advanced; 62.1% scored proficient; 27.6% basic and 0 scored below basic. Statewide, 122,260 students took the Keystone with the following results: 23.5% advanced; 41.7% proficient; 25.1% basic, and 9.7% below basic.
The scores that set off alarm bells though came from the middle-school students, grades 6-8, as follows: 4.1% advanced; 17.8% proficient; 30.5% basic, and 47.7% below basic. In comparison, statewide results for the same grades, which include 374, 390 students total, are as follows: 13.9% advanced; 22.6% proficient; 27.33% basic, and 36.2% below basic.
History and math teacher Michelle Allen teaches a supplemental math class at the middle-school level. She says, “I’m not sure exactly why our students struggle so much in math. I feel many students give up when it gets difficult and then fall behind with the increasingly demanding skills presented to them.”
Allen was also asked how she felt about the effectiveness of Carnegie.
She says, “There is a lot of good in the Carnegie curriculum, but I don’t feel it is a stand-alone solution to the problem. Many students require extra practice and time which isn’t always available through Carnegie alone. [At this time,] I don’t have enough experience in the math department to fully understand or have an opinion on its effectiveness.”
The Blue Ridge administration says the goal is to provide students with an avenue for honing their math skills and improving their standardized test scores.
Principal of Curriculum and Instruction Mr. Matthew Nebzydoski says, “A couple of things that will benefit students is all students will have strong core math skills, and skills for Keystone exams and Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs).”
Science and supplemental math teacher Beth Vaccaro states, “I think with the class being so small, and designed for tutoring, that it will help.”
Although it will be awhile before the results can be determined by future standardized testing, some students say they can already see the benefits.
Freshman Breanna Derrick states, “At first I thought the class wouldn’t help, but it turns out that it’s actually improved my math skills from the beginning of the year until now.”
Another freshman, Elizabeth Smith, adds, “It can be helpful in a couple of ways; it helps me remember what I’ve learned in class, and it’s helping me improve my math skills.”
For students who dislike math, however, the addition of the supplemental class is objectionable.
Freshman Logan Mann says, “I don’t really like math at all and it’s hard because I’m taking so many math classes in one day now.”
Mann is not alone. Some students, depending on their schedule, have up to three or more math classes in one day. For example, normally students have the actual math class they’re taking, everyone is required to take Carnegie Lab, and some students take a personal finance class. For those students, an additional math class may seem like a drawback.
While the emphasis on math may seem burdensome to some students, Allen points out that math is “a subject that builds skills on skills,” and for now the supplemental math class is a way to address the gap that students have.
When asked if math is more important than other subjects, she says, “Well – my first degree was in Secondary Education Comprehensive Social Studies – therefore I consider myself a history teacher first, so with that bias – no math is not more important! But I understand that math is important, and … I think it is important to try to fill any gaps students have as early as possible in their middle-high school career so they have the best chance to achieve their potential. I wish I could teach more history, but I get that right now this is what the student’s need. In future years I would like to see more targeted support to fewer struggling students, instead of a blanket approach for all students.”
Allen was asked if she thought there was redundancy in having a supplemental online math course alongside a rotating course, and if one would be better than the other. She was also asked to explain.
“I think many of the students may see the extra math in their schedules as redundant. With supplemental math, I am trying to help students find and fill gaps they have in their math skills – so I’m trying to not teach the same exact thing, in the same way they are getting in their regular math class or in Carnegie. Many students need extra time and practice to master skills, and I think that is what supplemental math should be. Unfortunately, the scheduling isn’t always as perfect as it should be. There are probably students who may not need as much extra practice or instruction, yet they end up in a large group with many others who do. I think it would be more beneficial if some students took Carnegie Lab and others (those who struggle more) had the Supplemental Math for more intense support in a smaller group setting. ”
Administrators emphasize that the supplemental math classes are designed to address a prevailing learning requirement for students, but may not be necessary in the future.
Nebzydoski states, “The class is designed to help students with current math needs, we plan to take a look at results, and determine if the need is still there [in the future].”