BARTON - Three years after being appointed principal at Lake Region Union High School, Andy Messier, in an effort to improve math scores, launched an innovative summer school math program that will extend into the school year.
Responding to unsatisfactory test results in math based on statewide testing, Vermont's Department of Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca called earlier this year for schools to focus on ways to improve scores.
Messier had already convinced the school board to fund an expanded summer school program beyond the current focus on students who have failed a class or students who are taking drivers education. Instead, Messier wanted the school to focus on algebra and geometry and target incoming freshmen students and students who will be sophomores this fall.
“Incoming students lack math readiness and that is limiting what our teachers can do to teach algebra and geometry,” said Messier.
The problem isn't isolated to Lake Region, but statewide, he noted. Testing is based on a student's knowledge of a common core of principles in each subject matter. A student who enters high school without being ready for algebra or geometry will not have a chance to get caught up. Many students enroll into vocational classes starting their junior year and Messier said they will need a good understanding of the core math classes to succeed in the fields of their choice.
Currently, students take one math class a year starting with algebra 1 and 2, followed by geometry. Messier's goal is for students to take a half-year of applied geometry in their second year, which will help prepare them for vocational classes.
With only 30 percent of sophomores completing both algebra classes prior to their junior year, Messier is trying to improve the success rate with the extra emphasis.
The summer school program, the only one Messier is aware of in the state, has received overwhelming positive responses by parents.
Sixty-six students enrolled in the 7-plus week program.
“We were expecting 15 students,” said Messier, “so I went back to the school board and asked for funds to bus the students to school. We pick them up along main routes and at pick up points in every town.”
Students are served breakfast, attend four hours of school, and then have lunch before going home. Meals are free. A grant will cover half of the cost of transportation for the summer school.
There are approximately 185 freshmen and sophomores enrolling in Lake Region this year. Students were given math tests earlier in the year and, based on the results, some were invited to attend summer school. Messier said there are parameters for enrollment; some students have learning disabilities that preclude them from taking algebra or geometry, and other students have demonstrated mastery of the subject.
“The program is an experiment for us; it's blended learning,” said Messier, “We can't cover everything as you would do in a school year. We look at what is essential, what is required. My job is to cover content, to recognize the student won't master it right now, but they can begin to absorb it.”
Another component of the program is the use of technology to enhance student learning. Assignments are posted online so students can do their homework and search for information, and the teachers can immediately review assignments and make comments. All students are using i-Pads which include videos explaining each type of problem in the assignment and providing examples of how to solve it. The use of technology will allow students to learn how to search for answers instead of waiting until class to ask the teacher for help.
“We can't replace teachers but we can teach students how to learn, how to think for themselves, to prepare them to know how to find the information they need to understand math concepts.” Messier stated.
Commissioner Vilaseca spent a day at Lake Region to observe and ask questions about the new program. Messier noted the commissioner was very interested in what the school was doing.
A unique facet of the program is the continuation of the program into the school year. While the summer school component ends in mid-August, student progress will be tracked during the school year and, at a time when they can demonstrate competency in the subject matter, students will receive full credit for the class. It could be anytime, according to Messier, in September or January, as long as it takes to learn the core principles.
The success of this program will not be determined immediately but Messier is hopeful that when this year's incoming freshmen class take the NECAP test at the beginning of their junior year, the students will show a marked improvement.