Numbers don’t lie: Inglewood Middle School students loving new summer math work

August 31, 2014

By Neil Pierson

New: Aug. 31, 2:17 p.m.

Summer weather in the Puget Sound region has been awfully friendly, and most children are taking advantage of the perpetual sunshine with outdoor activities like bike riding, swimming and sports.
But Inglewood Middle School students are also filling their summer schedule with time at their home computers. A few years ago, the Lake Washington School District began implementing IXL, an online math program, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Inglewood started using IXL in its math classes during the 2013-14 school year after principal Tim Patterson and several teachers paid a visit to neighboring Evergreen Middle School in Redmond.
At Evergreen, math scores have risen sharply in recent years. For example, 90.8 percent of seventh-graders met state assessment standards in the 2012-13 year, a growth of 8.5 percent in four years. Among eighth-graders, the passage rate was 79.8 percent, a rise of 11.2 percent.
In that same time span, Inglewood has seen its eighth-grade math scores level off to 70.3 passing in 2012-13.
“Our eighth-grade scores have not grown in the last few years, and so this effort really started with a hard look at, ‘How can we help eighth-graders meet the standard?’” said Patterson, who is entering his eighth year as Inglewood’s principal.
Math teachers told Patterson that eighth grade can be a difficult year for learning math concepts because that’s when algebraic concepts first get introduced.
“That’s a jump-off point that some kids find really challenging,” Patterson said.
The IXL purchase agreement allows the school to use the program for a full year, so school officials wanted to maintain at-home access for students over the summer.
IXL is used in more than 15,000 schools worldwide, its website states, and covers more than 2,500 distinct math topics from pre-kindergarten through high school.
“All questions – even word problems – are algorithmically generated, meaning that every question is unique, and students never see repeats no matter how long they practice,” the IXL website states.
The program is aligned to Washington’s new Common Core Standards. Lessons include multiple-choice, numerical and word problems. It’s all based on abilities: Sixth-graders can plot graphs or delve into consumer math. Seventh-graders can study the Pythagorean theorem. Eighth-graders can work on statistics and linear functions.
Inglewood students seems to be embracing the concept of summer math homework. From June 18 – the last day of school – through July 29, they had completed about 210,000 problems on the IXL site and Patterson projects they’ll break the 300,000 mark by summer’s end. Sixty-five percent of the student body has participated.
There are nearly 1,200 students enrolled at Inglewood, but because the incoming sixth-grade class didn’t get access to IXL until last week, most of those 210,000 problems were done by 750 students. That averages out to 280 problems per student.
The principal hopes the work will prove valuable when classes resume Sept. 2. Before IXL, most students did little, if any, math work during the summer, and had forgotten a lot of material when they returned to school.
“Our hope is if kids use this, just do 30 minutes of math a week, then they will kind of keep their math skills up to date and ready to go,” Patterson said. “So we’ll skip the first two weeks of school where we’re doing just solid review of concepts that they learned last year.”
While students are using IXL on a voluntary basis, there’s some extra incentive, too. The Inglewood PTSA funded several prizes: Each week, two participating students are chosen randomly and receive $5 gift cards for frozen yogurt. And when school starts up again, three more students will earn $50 Target gift cards as grand prizes.
The Lake Washington Schools Foundation has helped grow IXL usage in recent years. Ten of the district’s 53 schools received grants for the program last year.
One of the most interesting parts of IXL, Patterson said, is it allows teachers to assign students a proficiency level based on their scores.
It’s a more efficient system than simply giving out a 10-problem math assignment, the principal said.
“It allowed for what we call differentiation,” he said. “Kids that needed a little bit more work got a little bit more work; kids that understood the material, they didn’t have to do as much.”

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