The Fresno County Superintendent of Schools has been entrusted with helping young learners throughout California sharpen their math skills.
Along with that responsibility comes a newly awarded $11.2 million California Statewide Early Math Initiative grant.
“Our county decided to seek the grant because we are aware we are underperforming in state math test scores,” said Lupe Jaime, the senior director for the county’s early care and education department.
“Our county decided to seek the grant because we are aware we are underperforming in state math test scores.” — Lupe Jaime, senior director for the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools early care and education department
State Students Underperforming In Math
Fresno County students have plenty of company in California when it comes to math struggles.
Statewide, in all tested grades, only 38.65 percent of students met or exceeded standards in mathematics. But there is good news. The latest scores show a 1.09 percentage-point increase from 2017 and a 5.65 percentage-point rise from 2015, says Scott Roark of the California Department of Education.
The results are based on the online California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) test, which tests English Language Arts and mathematics.
This is the fourth year of the computer-based tests, which use California’s challenging academic standards. The tests ask students to write clearly, think critically, and solve complex problems — just as they will need to do in college and 21st-century careers, Roark said.
More Work To Be Done
Tom Torlakson, the termed-out state superintendent of public instruction, expressed optimism about the recent improvement in math. But he emphasized that much work still needs to be done.
“We’re encouraged by what we see, especially since these tests are more rigorous than previous paper and pencil tests,” Torlakson said. “However, we need to make sure all students continue to make progress.”
Matilda Soria, the program coordinator for Fresno County’s early care and education department, agreed.
She said the results emphasize a serious problem she hopes the $11.2 million grant will address.
“The 2017 scores for the CAASPP in mathematics dramatically underscore the need to develop and implement a strategic statewide approach that will result in stronger math gains so California students are successful in college and career,” Soria said.
How is FCSS Going To Improve Scores?
To improve scores, Soria said FCSS will use the 21-month grant to train, coach, and professionally develop teachers, administers, parents, and others to better educate infants to third-grade students.
Building a strong early math foundation is critically important, Soria said.
According to California’s Comprehensive Early Learning Plan, early gaps in school readiness evident in kindergarten are mirrored in third-grade standardized test results.
The plan also noted that kindergarteners who enter school behind are likely to remain behind as they move through the education system. Additionally, third graders who are behind are far less likely to graduate from high school on time.
In addition to training and coaching, Soria said FCSS will also use grant funds to purchase materials and tools.
“We are making this approach accessible to everybody who has access to young children.” — Matilda Soria, program coordinator for Fresno County’s early care and education department
“One of the tools is a math app that teachers could use with their students, or even families could use, to help their children build math skills,” Soria said.
Other materials include online math literature, math videos, and other family and community math resources, Soria said.
To track progress, FCSS enlisted the help of San Francisco-based West ED, a nonprofit, to independently evaluate the project.
“It wasn’t required by the grant, but we are very concerned about creating resources and products that are effective,” Soria said.
Training For Everyone
Soria said the focus of the grant is improving test scores in Fresno County and statewide: “The work is based in Fresno, but we will be targeting the entire state of California.”
All schools in California are encouraged to take advantage of the training, However, participation is not mandatory.
The training sessions, Soria said, are not restricted to teachers either. She is hopeful that parents, friends, and neighbors will take part also.
“We are making this approach accessible to everybody who has access to young children,” Soria said.
Interested parties can participate in a week-long conference this June in Fresno where they will receive initial training and coaching, Jaime said. From there, participants will meet once a month with a local professional learning community.
All materials, resources, and training sessions will be available on the California Early Math Project website.