Some people might think there's something in the water in Pueblo, Colorado, but it's really in the computers.
Education technology, along with a concerted effort by teachers and old-fashioned textbook instruction, is driving academic achievements that are making educators and politicians in Colorado and nationwide take notice.
Computer software in the district has played a big role in creating mini-math wizards, such as Michellae Brown, a fifth-grader now doing seventh-grade math problems.
As a fourth-grader, she occasionally struggled with math. Then, after some help from her teachers and time spent at the computer using a curricular software, Successmaker, Michellae ended the fourth grade working on sixth-grade math and has continued to work beyond her grade level.
"Over the course of a school year, it's astonishing to see a child moving at [his or her] own pace and continuing to progress and boost his or her self-esteem," says Patricia Gonzalez, principal at Bradford Elementary School. "It's really great to see when they take off."
Tracking student learning: This blue-collar district, where the majority of students are minority and more than 60 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch, has steadily surpassed average statewide math scores on standardized tests in recent years. Long a standout in reading, Pueblo schools are quickly gaining ground in math, in good measure because of Successmaker by Pearson Learning. The software allows teachers and administrators to gauge and track students' learning and to intervene when necessary, either by advancing students if the work isn't challenging enough or offering additional help for those who struggle.
Connecting curricula: "Part of this is a carryover from our reading program that's impacted our success in math," says John Brainard, the district's executive director of assessment, math, and science. "There's a lot of cross-pollination between literacy and numeracy at the elementary level."
Rising scores: In the 2004-2005 school year alone, Principal Gonzalez says, math scores for fifth-graders increased 23 points. The school also was nationally recognized in 2004 with an NCLB Blue Ribbon Award because of its outstanding improvement in test scores.
Duplicating efforts: Brainard and district officials hope to replicate their success for middle and high school students, and are now drawing up a plan for those grade levels. They extended a traditional one-year algebra course over three semesters for students who need more time to grasp the fundamentals. They also adopted stacked scheduling, a system in which almost all subjects are offered at the same time. For example, all ninth-grade algebra classes are offered at second period. So if a student in a regular algebra class can't grasp one topic, the student can move to the extended three-semester course to master the subject.
New requirements: Finally, district officials are considering a new graduation requirement that calls for students to pass a test showing they can take a college-level algebra course.
"Regardless of their future career, students will need to pass college algebra if they attend college," Brainard explains. "We're putting measures in place for that to happen."
Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.