Playing computer games: Schools try to fix waning math scores

With the public school district’s math scores hitting a three-year low, computer games that track the players’ weaknesses in math are being proposed in the 2019-20 school curriculum budget.

Math and science, specifically the state’s Next Generation Science test, are the main drivers behind the district’s request for $640,123 in curriculum spending. The curriculum budget is included in the $98.3 million budget the schools are proposing for the 2019-20 school year. 

Concerns about falling math scores — by as much as 6.3% over the past three years for elementary and middle school students — are leading school administrators to also ask for more classroom intervention for low performing math students. 

“We have to put the same time and energy into math that we’ve put into reading,” said Assistant Superintendent Craig Creller, who oversees curriculum and instruction for the district. “We’re doing an excellent job here with humanities.” 

Best tools available

As a result of the declining math scores, the schools are asking for additional materials to help the two middle school specialists hired for the 2018-19 school year. 

That’s where the computer games come in.

In Dreambox, students take on math lessons in the form of mini-games, manipulating blocks and objects, or solving math problems to progress. 

The program will either highlight specific areas where students are struggling as they play — sessions are supposed to last eight to 10 minutes, twice a day — or teachers can punch in students’ math assessment to them practice in the areas where they need help. 

“The computer adaptive software can zero in on the student’s individual weaknesses,” said Creller.

Another program, Math 180, “combines direct instruction from the teacher with computer adaptive software like Dreambox,” he explained.

Creller sees both as a tool for teachers, rather than a strict regimen. 

“A good teacher can always use their judgment to supplement,” the lesson, Creller added. “This is the first year we’ve ever had math interventionists at the middle schools, and we’re arming them with the best tools.”

Balancing act

Creller’s proposed budget for curriculum includes a $127,000 increase in services and textbooks. That would be made up of $59,000 in purchased services district-wide — including Dreambox and Math 180, $30,010 in conferences and training $10,000 for math textbooks and resources, $5,000 for literacy books and resources, and $23,543 in initial textbooks and resources. 

That increase would be offset by $135,735 in cuts to purchased services, professional services, and citizenship education.

“Those are citizenship courses that all public school districts provide for those who need them,” Creller explained. 

With the cuts, the schools would have “enough to meet our need,” he said.

Creller would be able to make up the professional development being cut by working with the teachers himself. 

“We cut out what we thought we could do internally and focused it into science,” he said.

New science standards

Creller is asking for an addition $108,000 for science materials. That means “microscopes, soil, test tubes — anything they need,” he said.

That’s all in preparation for the Next Generation Science Standards, a state test which students in grades, five, eight, and 11 will take beginning in the spring.

“They’re going to take the real test this year, no more pilot, we’re going to be ranked and sifted and sorted,” Creller said. 

Taken together, he said his three goals this year are to close the achievement gap for math, implement interventions in math for kindergarten through high school sophomores, and prepare for the NGSS test. 

“If the budget gets approved as it is,” he said, “I will absolutely achieve those three goals.”

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