Analyzing data from 2016-2017, we identified an academic gap via reports on freshman course failures. During 2016-17, 50 freshmen failed at least one semester of Algebra; eight failed both semesters. Of all freshman courses failures in 2016-17, 61.8% were math courses. Because math is sequential, some failing students become stuck until they pass to the next level. Of students who didn’t graduate on time in 2016-17, 80% were deficient in math credits (despite having four years to complete three required math credits), and all fell behind in math as freshmen. We explored current research that deepened our understanding of these issues. A policy brief entitled “Algebra 1 and the Underprepared Learner,” published in June 2013 in the UIC Research on Urban Education Policy Initiative by Timothy Stoelinga and James Lynn, emphasizes the connection between failing Algebra 1 and falling behind on graduation credits. A June 2015 Education Week blog post by Susan Fairchild, entitled “Why Students Fall off Track,” explores how freshman math failures connect to eventual failure to graduate on time.
We chose activities for this closing-the-gap goal based on school counseling best practices and research on the impact of math failures on overall graduation rates. We instituted weekly counselor check-ins because of the importance of making connections with at-risk students. Regular face-to-face interactions with students are reflected in the ASCA model, Standard B-SS 3: Create relationships with adults that support success. During these check-ins, we followed a curriculum we developed for struggling freshmen. Lessons and discussions focused on time management, organization, notetaking, regular attendance, goal setting, and self-advocacy. We engaged in conversations about the pitfalls of procrastination, checked assignment notebooks to see if students were writing down their homework, and encouraged students to monitor their attendance, set goals, and ask questions in class. We also collaborated with math colleagues to develop a systematic, research-based and data-driven Tier 2 intervention for struggling students. Though this intervention was implemented by the math department, it was also a counseling intervention because we collected data on struggling students and advocated for students to access support. We initiated math level changes because our Algebra 1 Part A curriculum included 20 additional minutes of targeted math support designed to address learning gaps in the classroom. Finally, we promoted summer school enrollment because of our research into the impact of math failures on overall progress toward graduation.
The data results from this closing the gap goal will enhance our future work with struggling math students as follows:
-We will deliver interventions more effectively through productive working relationships with math colleagues and systems to collaboratively identify students who need intensive support. Furthermore, we anticipate having more informed conversations with math colleagues to proactively identify the right math classes for incoming freshmen.
-These results have prompted us to collect targeted data about which students would benefit from moving to slower paced math courses so we can identify these students earlier, thus reducing the incidence of math failures and credit deficiencies. Furthermore, we noted a gap in the data: we did not gather information about students’ homework completion other than self-reporting on pre- and post-tests. We plan to take regular snapshots of each student’s academic progress to explore links between homework and grades.
-The data results from this goal will help us to further target ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors, particularly B SMS 5, Demonstrate perseverance to achieve long- and short-term goals. Our data results indicate that perseverance is key to success in math, as seen by the number of students who improved their grades significantly by retaking their math classes in summer school. We plan to implement targeted lessons for freshmen about perseverance and grit.
-These results also provide clear direction about the interventions we should continue. We will continue to implement lessons for struggling students to teach and reinforce skills including time management, organization, notetaking, regular attendance, goal setting, and self-advocacy,and hope to expand these to a wider audience of freshmen. Although a clear connection between regular counselor check-ins and grades wasn’t seen, we plan to continue this intervention so as to reinforce skills and build relationships.
-We will also use level changes and summer school as part of our menu of support for struggling math students. Due to equity and access concerns about summer school, we are also developing an online credit recovery option during the school year. Since some students in the daily tutoring groups did improve, we plan to continue work on this intervention with the math department.