Innovative math program groups kids by skill, not age

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DUCHESNE — Bob Hoopes has been a teacher at Duchesne Elementary School for the past 32 years.

"I even did my student teaching here," Hoopes said Monday with an ebullient smile.

But this school year is different than any in the past.

In addition to teaching his fifth-graders, Hoopes now teaches a special 30-minute math class each day for a combined class of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. The students are placed in the class based on their standardized testing scores from the 2010-11 school year.

The new program groups students together based on their mathematic proficiency to provide focused instruction that helps them improve their skills, said Duchesne Elementary Principal Jason Young.

"You have the kids that you're going too slow for them, and they've got it and they're bored. They're ready to move on," Young said. "You've got other students that … can't catch up. You have this wide range, and it's frustrating to everyone."


Young and his faculty based their math program on a similar one being used in the Sevier School District. Both the Duchesne and Sevier school districts are among 10 districts and 13 charter schools in the state that use Northwest Evaluation Association testing as part of a pilot program, according to the Utah State Office of Education.

NWEA scores provide educators with a wealth of specific data on areas of strength and weakness in various subcategories of language arts, reading and math. That information allows teachers to pinpoint their instruction to help kids succeed, Young said.

"Some students, they struggle with a certain area, so they just say, 'Oh, I'm not good at math,' and that's it," he said. "We're hoping with this (program) we can catch those gaps and give them some confidence."

Students at Duchesne Elementary still get one hour of math instruction each day, on top of the new, specialized math class. The program is in its first year, so empirical data hasn't been gathered about its impact on learning. But anecdotal evidence shows it's working.

"The feedback I've had from parents, from students themselves and from our teachers are that our students are doing better in math," Young said. "They're understanding and they're able to progress at a quicker pace in the regular math class because of the extra help."

Hoopes said his students' frustrations with math have faded this year.

"I'm having more fun right now than I've ever had in my whole career," Hoopes said. "It's kind of hard to think about retirement."

The new math program has parents excited as well, the veteran teacher said.

"Any time you take a kid by the hand, you take their parents right by the heart," Hoopes said. "That's a good thing, and parents are really supportive."


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