Pilot project contributes to improved algebra test scores in Miami-Dade schools

A collaborative pilot program created by FIU and Miami-Dade County Public Schools produced encouraging results for a group of high school students struggling in math.

Ninety-five high school students, identified as being at-risk of failing the Florida Department of Education End-of-Course Algebra I Assessments, spent three Saturdays at FIU preparing for the test. The exams were administered in May and the scores were released last week.

Of the students who participated in the pilot program, 79 percent successfully passed the end-of-course exam. The county average was 66 percent.

The students participating in the pilot project represented four Miami-Dade Title I high schools — Booker T. Washington, Homestead, Miami Jackson and Miami Southridge. The students were selected based on teacher and math coach recommendations as well as their Weighted Benchmark Average — a score based on a composite of practice tests and progress indicators used to predict student success on the Algebra I EOC exam.

“FIU and M-DCPS share a vested interest in improving the mathematical understanding and skill-base of our local high school students,” said Leanne Wells, Title V Mastery Math and Secondary Education programs coordinator for FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences. “As algebra is a gatekeeper course for STEM education, sharing the Mastery Math Lab resources, including its highly skilled learning assistants, is a natural extension of FIU’s commitment to advancing science and mathematics literacy in South Florida.”

With more than seven years as an educator, Milca coaches Desmond Phillips, one of her students from Miami Jackson, through solving a problem.

With more than seven years as an educator, Milca Exantus coaches one of her students from Miami Jackson.

The visits consisted of time in FIU’s Mastery Math Lab working on practice questions and worksheets followed by a tour of different parts of campus including chemistry and physics labs as well as the Graham Center.

The students used a specially designed, interactive web-based program to practice graphing linear equations, factoring and simplifying polynomial expressions — all identified as challenging areas on the electronically administered EOC exams.

“Students cannot earn an algebra credit unless they pass this test,” said Milca Exantus, FIU alum and math coach for Miami Jackson Senior High. “It can have a huge impact on their coursework towards graduation.”

The pilot project emerged as part of a broader initiative between FIU and Miami-Dade County Public Schools called ACCESS — Achieving Community Collaboration in Education and Student Success. ACCESS encompasses programs focused on minority education, teacher training, tutoring, academic leadership development and college readiness.