New approach lifts struggling students’ math scores

Intervention specialist fills gaps in basic skills

Sixth-grader Jorge Mendez plays a math card game

After winning a card game during a math intervention session, Kelloggsville Middle School sixth-grader Charissa Meeuwsen whooped, danced and cheered. “I won twice. I’m so geeked!” she squealed.

Julie Anderson sounded amused. “Hopefully, you got something out of it,” the math interventionist said.

“I got a lot out of it; really, I did,” Charissa told Anderson. Like many strategies used in the sessions, the game got Charissa to think fast and use her multiplication skills.

This story is part of the Making Math Add Up series

Intervention specialist Julie Anderson explains the objective of a math card game, which requires multiplication

Anderson, a 23-year teacher, is using a new approach for the district to math intervention. It’s focused on going back and filling in gaps in basic skills, rather than on grade-level content students aren’t yet grasping.

Since starting it this fall, Anderson has seen big improvements, measured by bumps in scores on the NWEA test, which Kelloggsville students take three times per school year. Students have also gotten their classroom grades up.

“It helped me raise my math grade by a whole letter grade,” Charissa said.

Last semester, 16 eighth-graders increased their NWEA scores by an average of 7.875 points; 10 seventh-graders increased an average 5.5 points; and 10 sixth-graders increased an average 3 points.

Sixth-graders Grace Stephens, left, and Monica Moreno work with interventionist Julie Anderson

Building a Solid Foundation

Anderson works with groups of three to five students who are about two to three years below grade level, according to NWEA scores. Students are pulled out of physical education or computer class to take part every other day — twice weekly one week and thrice weekly the next — for a semester.

‘It helped me raise my math grade by a whole letter grade.’ — sixth-grader  Charissa Meeuwsen

There are two main methodologies when it comes to math intervention, Anderson said.

“You either support what students are currently doing in the classroom, or go back and revisit foundational skills,” she said. Anderson and administrators determined middle school students would benefit most from filling in gaps in basic skills.

A big focus is on developing mental math skills by considering real-life situations, like adding the cost of items at the grocery store.

“I specifically focus on computational skills: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Those are the skills we work on because, honestly, if you can do those basics then you can be successful in pretty much all math,” said Anderson, who teaches students many ways to get to the right answers. “You have to have a good foundation for basic math skills.”

Anderson said the individual time she offers students helps a lot, and gives them the chance to express what they are and aren’t comprehending. “When you have kids in a smaller group there’s less intimidation, as far as peer pressure,” she said, adding,

Sixth-grader Charissa Meeuwsen said she’s been helped a lot by a math-skills intervention program

“Confidence is huge with this.”

At first, students lacked the knowledge and vocabulary to verbalize their math comprehension when Anderson asked them how they picture something in their head or explain how to get an answer. “Now it’s like that,” she said, snapping her fingers.

Eighth-grader Calvin Walker said he struggled with basic times tables and memorization strategies when he started intervention. But by working with Anderson he’s become more skilled and confident in multiplication and division overall. His grade shows it.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the highest it’s ever been. I’m pretty sure it’s an A,” he said.

When it comes to high school math next year, Calvin said, “I think I’m prepared for it.”

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Mathematic Interventions

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. Besides covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network, she writes freelance for the travel industry. Read Erin's full bio

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