Since President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, U.S. schools have been forced to take a hard look at their students' achievement data -- as reported on standardized state assessment tests -- make sense of that data and then use it to steer curriculum in order to improve learning. Sounds simple enough, right? Not quite. With so many variables that affect student achievement, including geography, socioeconomics, race and parental involvement -- all factors outside the school system's control -- some districts find that solutions to increase student achievement are often shots in the dark, albeit with the greatest intentions.
A District Challenged
In Richardson, Texas, the Richardson Independent School District (RISD) had these variables stacked against it due to a high percentage of students in minority and low socioeconomic demographics, who as a cohort have typically scored lower on standardized tests than their white, middle-class counterparts. In some RISD schools, up to 50 percent of students come from poor homes and many have high mobility rates.
The RISD was determined to close this widening achievement gap, particularly in middle-grade math curriculum. Gov. Rick Perry passed state education laws in 2006, requiring students to take four years of math in high school, beginning with the class of 2011. With news of this legislation coming down the pike, in 2004 Jim Nelson, then-district superintendent, approached Texas Instruments (TI) about collaborating to implement a program that addressed the declining achievement trend the district faced.
"Research, as well as years of experience in math education, indicated that there was not one 'silver bullet' that would solve this challenge," explained Lisa Brady-Gill, TI's director of education policy and practice. Mathematics experts, researchers, TI, RISD administrators and teachers collaborated to develop the intervention program now called TI MathForward.
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