A troubled school has found that cooperation and team teaching raises math scores and enables students to reach their best level.

Three years ago, teachers at Lakeridge Elementary School in Renton Washington knew they had a problem.  Previously, fewer than 10% of the third and fifth graders passed state math tests.  Lakeridge was in the bottom 5 percent of elementary schools statewide.

Team Teaching Raises Math Scores

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Elham Kazemi, a University of Washington professor, had more disturbing news.

Student responses to word problems was to just add the numbers together, whether or not that was the right strategy.  They did not know how to apply multiplication or subtraction, a basic skill for third graders.

Only a very few fifth-graders could solve problems with the skill that, in other schools, was common in third or even second grade.

Principal Jessica Calabrese, then new to the school, can still picture Kazemi in the school library that day, wearing a long cardigan and a look of pain. For her, that’s when the depth of the school’s troubles fully sank in.

“It wasn’t just some students struggling,” Calabrese said, “it was nearly all of them.”

With math skills that weak, she knew her students wouldn’t be ready for algebra by the eighth grade.

Team Teaching Raises Math Scores

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That, by itself, could keep them off the college track in high school, which in turn would almost certainly put the growing number of Washington’s well-paid technology jobs beyond their reach.

Some educators in her position double down on the basics, drilling students on a narrow set of key skills in the belief that it’s the best way to help them catch up.

But Calabrese and Lake­ridge teachers didn’t consider that route — seeing it as a short-term fix that probably would raise math scores quickly but could rob students of the deeper understanding they’d need to succeed in algebra and beyond.

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