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Algebra Skills Soar in Federal Way School District

There’s a new way of preparing students to succeed in math in the Federal Way School District. Called Algebraic Thinking, it is contributing to significant improvement in student performance.  

District administrators recently reported that 765 of the 1,090 middle school students, or 70% of those who were enrolled in middle school Algebraic Thinking math classes in 2009, passed high school algebra in 2010 with a C- grade or higher.

Like districts and schools throughout the nation, Federal Way has been seeking the solution to effectively teaching algebra to all students - not just those who have a natural math aptitude, says Dr. Joshua Garcia, Assistant Superintendent.

“Four years ago we knew we had a number of 6th-grade students who were not going to be on track for algebra,” Garcia says. It was back then that the district saw promise in the Algebraic Thinking program created by the National Training Network (NTN).

NTN is a North Carolina Professional Development company specializing in mathematics teacher training/coaching and curriculum development, for teachers teaching low performing math students, says Dr. Jim Hager, NTN Senior Vice President/COO. 

Hager says NTN’s three-component Algebraic Thinking program involves staff training, curriculum materials and on-going classroom teacher coaching.

“It was a natural marriage for us,” Garcia says, because the district uses a coaching model for instruction in other subject areas.  “First, we have high quality teachers and what Algebraic Thinking does is help our teachers get better through their training, materials and coaching.”  

As for the effect on student learning, he says, “Algebraic Thinking has accelerated their preparedness.”

Federal Way’s improved math skills are of major significance to individual students, says Garcia, because four-year college entrance requirements in Washington include passing high school algebra and research has shown that passing algebra also raises the likelihood of students staying in school and graduating.

“As a district we outperformed the state,” Garcia adds.  “The numbers show we outperformed the state in math in every grade level on the State’s Standardized Exam MSPE). And that is pretty significant.”

Algebraic Thinking, used in all the district’s eight middle school programs, was developed by NTN, a company founded in 1991 by educator Dr. Brian Enright.

NTN currently provides mathematics curriculum and teaching support to a number of school districts in 14 states throughout the United States. Its programs include: The Key Elements of Mathematic Success, The Key Elements of Algebraic Success and Algebraic Thinking.

Enright says Federal Way’s commitment to the program is exemplary.  “It is one of the best implementation of our program in the United States.  Up and down the chain – the administrators, teachers and students – have been committed to it.”

Algebraic Thinking is designed to change the way students think about math. “Students learn to think algebraically – they don’t learn a ‘bunch of meaningless rules’,” Enright says. “Algebraic Thinking changes student’s attitudes about math and gives them confidence in their abilities.”

Posted: September 29, 2010