A new report from the nonprofit WestEd group and the Gates Foundation for more details shows how three high schools have boosted their math scores and their reputations.
Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash., had a 49 percent passing rate on the state's math assessment in 2003. But more recently the school's passing rate has jumped to 73 percent. How? The school encourages students to take four years of math, rather than the state requirement of three years. Teachers also challenge students to take more rigorous math courses through the school's Advanced Placement program, which was introduced in 2003. Support programs match the school's higher expectations, and instructors identify struggling incoming students in the eighth grade so they can get immediate help when they make the transition. At Granby High School in Norfolk, Va., fewer than 1 in 5 students a decade ago passed Algebra I, and only one in four passed Algebra II. Today, the passing rates in Algebra I and Algebra II are an impressive 84 percent and 90 percent, respectively. The school's emphasis on teacher training has made the difference. Math teachers no longer work alone but in teams, learning from each other and, as a result, holding each other accountable. According to the report, this team approach lets teachers develop lesson plans and evaluate student data more purposefully and accurately. The school offers different training for beginning and more experienced teachers: New teachers, for example, participate in a three-year induction program and work closely with a coach, who gives them feedback and mentoring.
Fenway High School in Boston started as a school for at-risk students. In 2004, only 35 percent were "proficient" or "advanced" in math. Today, 70 percent are in these two levels. Also, the school's graduation rate of 83 percent has skyrocketed past the district's 60 percent graduation rate. The key to the school's improvement has been a focus on its students' ability to comprehend and explain math concepts. Throughout their four years at Fenway, students are required to show how they solved math problems—sometimes in front of their parents. Students are also required to build a portfolio of their best work. At the end of each unit, every student must turn in a short report addressing the math skills they have mastered. So while doing well on quizzes and exams is important, the school also assesses students in other ways that are meaningful.