Breaking a national trend, Centerville schools use new curriculum to increase math scores

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each month, Dayton Daily News reporter Eileen McClory highlights a program from local school districts that improves the academic or mental health outcome of students and teachers in the Dayton area.

While math scores have plummeted nationally following the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts by the Centerville School District have increased student scores even higher than pre-pandemic results.

Centerville’s scores dropped during the pandemic similar to other districts statewide — but its scores have improved beyond pre-pandemic levels, according to testing data collected by Harvard and Stanford University professors.

Centerville staff attributes the improvement in scores to a change in curriculum, but also working with parents and teachers to implement the math concepts.

The school district began looking into changing the math curriculum pre-2020 because it was outdated and no longer as useful to teachers.

Centerville’s curriculum department worked with a group of teachers to select the elementary school program, Bridges in Mathematics, implemented just before the pandemic shutdown, and Carnegie Learning for middle school math through Algebra I and Geometry, implemented in the 2021-2022 school year.

Carrie Schade, Centerville K-5 math instructional coach, said much of the elementary curriculum used now is meant to build up the thought patterns of mathematics rather than showing the students a route memorization to the answer.

Adam Ciarlariello, director of secondary curriculum and a former high school math teacher, said while he taught trigonometry, there were many students who could do the problem. But they clearly didn’t understand the concept behind the problem.

“A lot of older generations associate math with being given some sort of equation and solving it,” Ciarlariello said. “But that’s not math.”

Instead, the curriculum encourages mathematical thinking, which requires less memorization and more reasoning through a problem. New research and changing societal expectations influence how the kids are learning.

“It’s about equipping our teachers with the right tools to be able to meet the needs of kids,” said Cherie Colopy, director of elementary curriculum.

On a recent Monday in Sarah Jacob’s first-grade class at Primary Village North Elementary, I watched as students were assigned an activity: create paths with the blocks the teacher had given to them. The students were encouraged to count the number of blocks and then came together as a group to talk about which one had the greatest number of blocks – 129 – verses the least, which was 50 blocks.

The students were using several different strategies to count the blocks by 10s. The group of students with the longest path took off 10 blocks and moved it across their path measure the 10′s blocks.

That activity built on several concepts the students had already done as a class that day, like creating equations to count to the 152 days they’d been in school.

It was a far cry from what I remember doing as a first grader in math. I remember doing flash cards, memorizing math problems and being frustrated that I couldn’t add and subtract as fast as the other students. There was no discussion of multiplication, and I didn’t hear the word “equation” until I was in fifth grade.

Ciarlariello acknowledged that many of Centerville’s gains are likely attributable to the high socio-economic status in the city. Centerville is one of the wealthiest districts in the area and students who have extra needs can get more help because they are fewer than number.

He said, though, that it is worth celebrating a win, even if it may not be exactly replicable to other districts.

Even compared to other districts in Ohio that are similar in size and socio-economic status, Centerville stands out post-pandemic. Most districts have just barely been able to claw their way back to pre-pandemic math scores, let alone improve from before the pandemic.

Colopy said the teachers were the ones most making the change happen. The curriculum change helped but it was teachers getting the support they needed and feeling heard that helped the students the most.

“We’re nothing without the good work they do every day,” she said.

Eileen McClory is a Dayton Daily News education reporter.

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