Edition 2015

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Closing the Gap

by Julie M. Hughes

Christina Jacques

Teacher Christina Jacques works with a student at Gadsden Middle School.
NMSU has partnered with the school to help it implement new methods for teaching math.

NMSU is partnering with local school districts to improve math test scores among Hispanic students.

New Mexico State University’s College of Education is creating the model for closing mathematics achievement gaps among Hispanic students.

Three College of Education programs – the Gadsden Math Initiative (GMI), MathStar and Mathematically Connected Communities – have partnered the university with the Gadsden Independent School District and other New Mexico school districts to implement new methods for teaching math to elementary and middle school students.

Karin Wiburg, the college’s associate dean for research, says the first part of a student outcomes study conducted using data from 2003 and 2004 standardized tests and teacher observations shows that the NMSU programs are helping to improve math test scores for Hispanic students in Gadsden. On average, Gadsden’s three middle schools have risen from a 7 percent competency in mathematics when the program started in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004.

“Test scores in math for these students are higher than the state average for the same populations,” Wiburg says. “The outcomes study so far confirms that these initiatives have had powerful positive effects on learning when they are implemented district-wide.”

Wiburg says the Gadsden schools are a perfect place for this study because the population being addressed reflects the changing demographics of the nation.

The student body in the Gadsden district is 95 percent Hispanic and an estimated 57 percent of the students come from homes where the primary language spoken is not English. The U.S. Census Bureau reported a 73 percent growth rate for Hispanics from 1990-2002 during a period in which the U.S. population grew only 16 percent.

“Because of this growth, teachers everywhere in this country will soon be faced with culturally and linguistically diverse students they have not been prepared to teach,”
Wiburg says. “We need to give teachers the training required to decrease the achievement gap for Hispanic students.”

The Gadsden Math Initiative focuses on helping students understand and build math concepts rather than memorizing techniques. GMI and the outcomes study are funded by a National Science Foundation grant that continues until June 2006.

In MathStar, teams of teachers design and implement lessons using the Lesson Study method, a professional development technique that originated in Japan and has been successful in the Southwest. This project is New Mexico’s part of a three-state grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Mathematically Connected Communities, which began in 2004, is funded by the New Mexico Public Education Department to connect mathematicians, university educators and researchers, and public school leaders to enhance mathematics achievement for middle school students. The funding will allow the work in Gadsden to continue in other districts and areas of New Mexico.

Wiburg says the mathematics teaching abilities of participating teachers also are improving, which is shown by higher ratings on classroom observation instruments. The goal of the continuing study is to investigate which aspects of these professional development initiatives increase student learning the most.

Program leaders say they would like to expand the professional development for teachers into the high schools. They also would like to help teachers who do not hold mathematics endorsements or certifications receive the training needed to obtain credentials that have been mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.

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