Middle-Grade Math: Building a solid foundation

Why Is It Important?

Eighth grade math is the first in a series of higher-level math classes students need to succeed in college and life. Students who have not developed a solid math foundation struggle to score high on the ACT and may end up needing remedial math courses in college, which makes getting a degree a longer, costlier process than it is for their more prepared classmates. The message is clear: It's easier to learn the math now than to relearn it later.

Partnership Profile

Administrators and instructors in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky schools are recognizing that math is a high need area. Student math performance across the region on state exams has either remained the same or declined in recent years, particularly in the middle grades. One challenge is that students are resigned to thinking they don’t have the fictitious “math gene,” and thus aren’t capable of doing the work. Many teachers struggle to instill a positive math mindset in their students.

To help reverse course, curriculum coordinators at Cincinnati Public Schools and Winton Woods City Schools, with support from StrivePartnership, Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative and other partners, seek to inspire math teachers across the region to fundamentally change how math is taught, viewed and achieved.

Tracy Zager, a nationally recognized math teacher and author of “Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had,” keynoted a conference in September, 2018 at Xavier University. She introduced teachers to her inspiring philosophy of instilling a positive math mindset in children of all abilities and to draw on the passion of mathematicians rather than defaulting to viewing math as boring rote work.

Since that convening, cohorts of math teachers have been meeting in Math Learning Circles to support one another as they practice the math mindset with students.

Michael Huesman, a Withrow High School Algebra 1 teacher, meets with a fellow math teacher to exchange ideas about cross-discipline use of mathematics. He has applied algebra to determine the concentration of substances in a formula, as his father, a pharmacy tech, did on the job.

He’s optimistic the strategy of math circles will continue to spark effective ideas with peers.

“Connecting mathematics with other fields has been helpful,” Huesman said.

Teachers will showcase in April what they’ve learned and assess student performance at the end of the school year. They will also receive continuing education credits for their participation, and, potentially, credit from the University of Cincinnati.

The efforts align with work that Cincinnati Public Schools is leading with support from StrivePartnership and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to improve 8th-grade math proficiency by creating a Network for Student Improvement that promotes continuous quality improvement tools and practices for teachers. The initiative is being funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

8th Grade Math Data Definition

The 8th grade math exam is administered to all Urban Core students to determine whether they are performing at or above the 8th grade math level as determined by the state.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Covington, Kentucky

Newport, Kentucky

The data cannot be compared across states.

All data as of December 17, 2018

2017-18 Outcomes data for Kentucky districts is not currently available and will be updated as the data are released on the Kentucky Department of Education data portal.