Amy Hodgson is the former superintendent of Dansville Schools in Michigan. She retired in December 2021 after 11 years in the position.
Students across the country, including in Michigan, are struggling with math — and not just because of the pandemic.
The latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate math performance has been on the decline since 2012, with gaps between struggling and high-performing students widening. Pandemic disruptions, such as the shift to remote learning, only exacerbated the issue.
When Dansville Schools first shifted to online learning in spring 2020, math achievement was already a priority. Doubling down on our approach has helped yield consistent, widespread progress — even during the pandemic.
Gain parent buy-in
Because parent engagement plays a key role in students’ success, our district works proactively to gain their buy-in and support. We use the following analogy to communicate the urgency of math and interventions:
If your child is sick, you bring them to the doctor and make sure they are taking prescribed medicine — if your student is struggling in math, we need you to bring them to “appointments” with their teacher or math interventionist.
To ensure parents clearly see their students’ academic needs, we share data to get buy-in and drive decisions. During their conversations with parents, our teachers and interventionists will use charts and graphs to help visualize students’ progress and validate needed supports.
Treat math as a non-negotiable
Before the pandemic hit, Dansville Schools doubled down on math achievement, making it a “non-negotiable.”
Part of this process included working with staff to ensure they had the tools needed to be successful. After investing in a math intervention program, administrators, teachers and interventionists collaborated throughout the training and implementation process.
Recognizing the importance of consistency, teachers make time for classwide math intervention activities every single day — field trips and half days included. While we may not have realized it in the moment, setting this expectation would prove instrumental in ensuring math growth continued during the pandemic.
Use an evidence-based program
Even in education pre-training programs and professional development sessions, there can be a lot of variability around the instructional advice teachers are given.
Instructional strategies, technologies and resources are often philosophy-based and can actually be detrimental to students’ academic success. This is why it is so important to make sure the program’s claims are backed up by evidence in the form of a published study, research or experiment. Staying committed to relying on programs grounded in research and thorough vetting is absolutely crucial to improving student outcomes.
Through this vetting process, Dansville Schools selected SpringMath — a math intervention program developed by researcher Dr. Amanda VanDerHeyden that helps more than 80,000 students nationwide achieve math mastery. Because there’s published evidence of its impact, we felt confident implementing SpringMath as part of our core math curriculum, and it has proven to be everything we had hoped and more.
Consistent, widespread growth
By rethinking how we approach math achievement, Dansville Schools is sustaining consistent, widespread growth — as evidenced by progress monitoring and assessment data. This is demonstrated in the chart below, comparing 2nd grade assessment scores in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
As educators, we have a moral imperative to help every student realize in spite of any previous mindset — that yes, ALL students can do math — and ensure the right supports are in place to help them succeed.
Every student deserves to be given the gift of math proficiency. It is also up to us — at the district, school and classroom level — to give teachers the right tools to ensure math achievement is a non-negotiable priority.