JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Pilot program aims to raise math scores in Washington state

FIVE YEARS AGO, Mark Barga, principal of Chimacum Creek Elementary School, came to Gay Eisenberger and the Port Townsend American Association of University Women (AAUW) with a request to help reduce the high school dropout rate by addressing one of the risk factors: students who can’t read at grade level by the end of third grade.

Led by Eisenberger and Macy Galbreath, a cadre of two dozen AUUW members mobilized to provide twice-weekly phonics tutoring sessions for kindergarten students.

The goal: to give each student the basic reading skills needed to succeed in school by providing instruction and feedback in small groups.

Last year’s testing was typical of the results: By the end of the school year, 30 percent of Chimacum Creek kindergarten students had met benchmarks for identifying letters, sounds and word units.

More impressively, another 50 percent to 60 percent had exceeded the benchmarks.

AAUW takes on math

Now, the AAUW is taking on math.

Called the Math Competency Demonstration Project, the pilot program was launched earlier this year to address the fact that in 2010, less than half of the 162 third-grade students in Port Townsend and Chimacum public schools met the grade-level standard on the state Measurement of Student Progress.

“A group of us in AAUW spent last year gathering information about education in Jefferson County through school visits and reading,” Eisenberger said. “We were concerned about the low math achievement of third-graders in Chimacum and Port Townsend schools.”

So Eisenberger and Mary Weeding, another AAUW member, decided to adapt the concept used in the phonics model — working with students in small groups — and added another component: ALEKS, an interactive computer learning program that allows each student to proceed at his or her own pace. The 14-session pilot project, held at Chimacum schools, wound up last week.

“It’s awesome,” said Ian Inman, 8, as he worked on identifying congruent shapes on the computer screen. “I like doing geometry.”

ALEKS is not new; Title 1 has funded subscriptions for a dozen or more students each year for five years, according to Barb Greenwood of the schools’ Learning Assistance Program.

What is new: providing every third-grade student at Chimacum schools with ALEKS, which goes from third grade to college math.

Students work at school during the twice-weekly math lab time and also access their program from any computer 24/7, meaning they can work at home.

‘It engages them’

Fred Akins, who teaches third grade, said ALEKS definitely makes a difference.

“It’s more practice, and it’s another format, so it engages them,” Akins said.

“There is some choice, and it’s leveled instruction, which is different from what I do in class.”

The online math program is set up so that the students choose what area to work or be assessed on, starting with addition and subtraction and moving through multiplication and division to fractions, decimals and geometry.

When they hit something they don’t understand, an explanation is a click away.

The computer also will demonstrate how to solve a problem step by step, then provide a similar problem to practice on, Greenwood said.

The computer program also keeps track of the time each student spends and monitors progress, filling in a section of a pie-shaped graph when an area is mastered.

“It’s immediate feedback,” Greenwood said. “They’re really excited about it.

“It encourages them to work on it more.”

Teachers also can monitor progress, post their own quizzes and pull data to see what the students have learned and what standards have been met.

And when a new student comes in during the year, ALEKS tests at what level the student is and sets up instructions to go from there.

Cody Clark, like a number of Chimacum students, has completed the third-grade level and is working on fourth-grade math, Greenwood said.

“What’s wonderful about this program is it doesn’t hold back any student,” she said.

“They can excel at any level of their ability.”

After computer lab time, students meet in small groups for activities and games with an adult volunteer.

Eisenberger and Weeding led training for the volunteers and put together a packet of card games, puzzles, Sudoku-like squares and Bingo boards that require a knowledge of math.

With two tutoring programs going on at the same time, AAUW had to cast its net wider for volunteers, drawing in family and friends, including Don Givens, John Sroufe and David Weeding.

“Here’s another adult in their lives,” Akins said, watching his students interact with their group leaders.

Chimacum sixth-grade students also helped with the project: Jade Taylor, Cole Miller, Maya Taylor, Kelle Settje and Kayla Calhoun volunteered to work in the computer lab.

At the end of the pilot project, 7 Cedars Casino and bridge clubs donated decks of cards that students could take home, Mary Weeding said, along with rules for versions of “War” that are won by adding or multiplying the turned-up cards.

$1,652.50 grant

The University Women’s Foundation of Jefferson County, the fundraising arm of the Port Townsend AAUW, provided a $1,652.50 grant for the project.

The ALEKS Corporation donated 57 three-month subscriptions, enough with the 17 subscriptions the school already had to cover the entire third grade.

School districts normally pay $35 per student for a seven-month subscription, Greenwood said.

Follow-up tests are scheduled after spring break.

Then, the teachers and volunteers will evaluate the project and make recommendations concerning the adoption of a seven-month program, Eisenberger said.

The numbers that AUUW is shooting for: 80 percent of third-grade students meeting or exceeding the state standard for math by spring 2012.


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or email

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