In each installment of our Educator Perspectives series, we interview teachers and administrators across the country who are engaging, motivating, and challenging their students in unique ways. We share their obstacles, successes, and strategies in order to build a community better prepared to mathematically equip all students.
Madison Primary School in Madison, Virginia, is a single story, brick building nestled among trees, located near Hoover Ridge Park and the county’s farmers’ market. Down the road from the local middle and high school, Madison Primary School is home to 359 students, ranging from pre-kindergarten to second grade.
Jessi Almas has been an educator for over eleven years, and is currently the Instructional Coach at Madison Primary, where she led the effort to bring ST Math to the school for their Tier 3 students this past year. We recently had a chance to speak with Jessi and Principal Mike Coiner about the dramatic impact ST Math is making for Madison Primary’s young learners.
Leading Mathematical Change
Madison Primary School’s mission, and all of Madison County Public Schools', is to provide a student-centered and community-supported school division, and ensure a superior education through innovative practice in a changing world. Their motivation to innovate led them on a search to find a program that could make a difference for their Tier 3 students, who require more individualized instruction in order to address specific learning gaps.
“We wanted to address problem solving,” Jessi explained. “Problem solving was a struggle for our students on the universal test, classroom work, and assessments. We were seeing it especially with our students who struggled with math. We wanted to provide an additional layer of support for Tier 3 instruction that would supplement some of the independent work that they couldn’t complete successfully on their own—and would also be engaging and fun for them.”
Personal Experience and Proven Resources
Prior to her arrival at Madison Primary, Jessi taught third grade in Indiana. It was there she first encountered ST Math and saw the difference it made for her students. When she moved across state lines, Jessi brought her love for ST Math with her. And when she and Mike examined the needs of their students, she suggested ST Math.
I had used it at my previous school in Indiana and I thought it was fabulous," Jessi told MIND. "The kids loved it. It was a great tool in my classroom, so I brought it to the administration and they were very supportive.
Principal Mike Coiner did not have previous experience with ST Math before Jessi brought it to him as a possible solution. As the Principal of Madison Primary School, and with over 24 years of experience, Mike knew that any resource they brought in would need to provide not only effective instruction, but meaningful data for both students and teachers.
“We certainly hoped that it would increase student engagement and give us some solid data feedback to guide our decision-making,” Mike said. “Previously, we had students working on other programs that did not give us a lot of data feedback and did not have a lot of accountability for students. We wanted something with more focus, that would give students more feedback and give us more data to make decisions.”
The built-in report features of ST Math provide data for teacher facilitation, intervention analysis, and monitoring student achievements within ST Math. Jessi also knew from experience that immediate, informative feedback was a central component of the learning experience that ST Math provided.
“Other programs will give you feedback, but you have to read through all the reasons why your answer is incorrect,” Jessi said. “Many of the students at this level, kindergarten through second, can’t read as well. That instant visual feedback gives students a sense of confidence that they can solve the problems after seeing the mistakes that they made.”
After considering all their options, the administration decided that ST Math was a good fit for their needs. Soon, Madison Primary School had thirty licenses for kindergarten through second grade and decided to implement the program at the beginning of the school year with Jessi leading the way.
A Dramatic Impact
Madison’s high expectations for ST Math were rewarded. Madison Primary implemented ST Math for the 2018-2019 school year. Students who were at Tier 3 when the year started, began using ST Math. Students who were still at or testing into Tier 3 at the mid-year mark, used ST Math for the remainder of the year. The results were dramatic:
For the group of 30 students who began the school year in Tier 3:
13 of the 30 students (43%) using ST Math tested out of Tier 3 services mid-year. One of those 13 tested out of tiered services entirely.
For the group of 22 students that were assessed at mid-year to be at Tier 3:
17 of the 22 students (77%) using ST Math tested out of Tier 3 services by the end of the year. Three of the 17 students tested out of tiered services entirely.
For the overall school year:
Students using ST Math increased their percentile levels by an average of 20%, as determined by the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) assessment.
One student moved the needle on test scores from the 13th percentile to 56th percentile in mathematics. Jessi explained, “She was working hard on ST Math and completely engaged. I was encouraged by her and other students' excitement around the program and learning to persevere and struggle through the challenges.” Jessi is quick to point out that this student's success was also the result of her teacher's dedicated instruction, inspiration, and care.
“It really did take a village,” Jessi shared. Madison Primary School teachers jumped on board immediately in support of ST Math and it made a difference. “The program would not have been nearly as successful without the unwavering support of our amazing administration, teachers, and instructional assistants.”
In addition to the clear results, Mike felt that the informative feedback ST Math provides students was a strong motivator. “I think the instant feedback the students receive is valuable to them,” he said.
For teachers and administrators, the data ST math provides allows them to see where students are in real time.
“We do universal assessments three times a year, and in previous years, that had been our big data point through the year to check long-term progress. This made it easier to see day-by-day and week-by-week just how much progress those students were or were not making.”
Mindsets that Go Beyond Math
While teachers were impressed by student excitement and mathematics progress with ST Math, they saw effects on students’ attitudes and approach to learning in other areas well. Jessi heard stories from the reading specialist and other teachers about students taking the experiences from ST Math in productive struggle and perseverance, and applying those mindsets toward new problems.
“‘Help JiJi persevere through tough problems’ became a mantra which carried over into persevering through tough words when reading,” Jessi explained.
Another student, empowered by their success, checked out a book at the library on perseverance.
We saw students apply what they were learning through JiJi to other subject areas. It was all about the productive struggle and perseverance.
When speaking with Jessi and Mike about program implementation next year, they were encouraged. They plan to implement ST Math again in the same way to continue success and growth with Tier 3 students, and they'll bring in more students as needed.
Ideally, they would love to bring the ST Math program to even more students in the future. “We would be thrilled to be able to provide the opportunity for Tier 2 and Tier 3 students,” Mike shared.
Bringing in new resources to a school can be challenging, but with innovative leaders like Jessi and Mike, anything is possible. Madison Primary School has shown dedication to learning and growing and we applaud their success.
MIND would like to thank Jessi and Mike for taking the time to share Madison Primary School’s success story with us. And congratulations for creating and cultivating a culture that prepares students to solve the world’s most challenging problems.
About the Author
Jolene Haley was the Content and Community Specialist at MIND Research Institute. In addition to creating content for MIND, she is an author, avid reader, and lover of iced coffee.