MERIDEN — City schools have been thrust into the national spotlight as a result of local educators’ efforts to rethink how they deliver math instruction in recent years.
That rethinking, which emphasizes small group collaboration, individual instruction, extended time devoted to math and engages students in so-called “productive struggle,” has yielded promising results, particularly for fifth grade students.
So much so that a New York Times reporter and photographer visited Benjamin Franklin Elementary School earlier this fall. That newspaper’s story on its visit appeared on its front page in mid-October. More recently, CBS News spotlighted the school’s math efforts in its national evening news broadcast.
State-reported results on Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests showed that Benjamin Franklin fifth-grade students made close to double digit gains in math over the past few years. For example, in the spring of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival, around 37% of Benjamin Franklin fifth graders who took that year’s math test had achieved proficient scores. The test was not administered in 2020. It was administered in 2021, but those results were not applied to schools’ accountability reports.
SBAC accountability reporting resumed this year. And results from last spring’s test showed more than 45% of Benjamin Franklin fifth graders earned SBAC scores considered to be proficient or advanced. Despite the academic challenges posed by the pandemic, including a sudden switch to remote learning, and other struggles, the school’s fifth graders had shown significant growth in math.
Benjamin Franklin fifth graders had bucked the trend reported by national agencies, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly referred to as “the Nation’s Report Card.” For example, in October, NAEP reported nationwide math scores in other grades — fourth and eighth — had declined by historic levels not seen in well over a decade.
Daniel Crispinio, who serves as director of school leadership overseeing the city’s elementary schools, described a focus in city schools on learning that has shifted away from individual students working out of textbooks. Instead students work together, with their peers, teachers and tutors.
“Our kids are working together. They’ve very collaborative now in math,” Crispino said, explaining students are using classroom whiteboards and evidence paper to show their peers how they solved particular math problems.
“Our focus has shifted to helping kids have that productive struggle in math,” Crispino said. As a result, educators are “seeing a huge improvement.” That productive struggle has helped students persevere through difficult math concepts, like fractions and division, Crispino explained.
“We’re seeing more of a willingness in our students to grapple through and not quit on a math problem. Now we’re seeing kids that are not quitting. They are comfortable in knowing which strategies they need to use to be successful,” Crispino said. “That’s something we’re extremely proud of.”
Now the school district has hosted educators from school districts around the region, and other places, seeking to observe the math approach in action. Those visitors include educators from Bridgeport, Ansonia, and even Boston. A group from Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada, has also come to observe the educators’ math approach.
“We’re thrilled that Meriden’s interventions and successful academics is gaining national attention,” said Board of Education president Rob. Kosienski Jr. “I think our curriculum and our staff we have in place is definitely a benefit to our students. It’s nice to have them receive accolades and recognition.
“Our goal is to make sure all students have the opportunity to succeed,” Kosienski said.