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Digital learning, assessment program meets math students where they are

ALEKS® from McGraw-Hill Education helps identify what students know and what they’re ready to learn

Students in seventh-grade math classes are not necessarily ready for seventh-grade math. They may be rusty in concepts taught in sixth grade, or ready for high-level applications covered in high school.

That is why the ALEKS® personalized learning program from McGraw-Hill Education is an integral part of the math curriculum in Oak Creek-Franklin middle schools, says Annalee Bennin, director of curriculum and assessment for the southeastern Wisconsin district.

ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces) uses periodic assessments to recognize what material students already know and what they are prepared to learn, then adapts lessons. It is available for grades 3 through 12, but Oak Creek-Franklin uses it primarily for about 1,500 students in grades 6 through 8 in the district’s two middle schools. Two years ago the district started using ALEKS in ninth grade and has been integrating it by course in grades 10 through 12.

“About seven years ago we saw math scores plummeting in middle school,” Bennin says. “We have talented teachers, but we needed to update our teaching style to meet students’ learning styles. ALEKS does not replace the teacher; it helps the teacher be more adaptive and ready for a variety of learners. It allows kids to be taught at the level they are ready to learn.”

Impressive results

In 2011-12, before ALEKS was piloted at Oak Creek-Franklin, students at East Middle School had a 65.5 (out of 100) state accountability rating, which considers student achievement, student growth and closing achievement gaps. In 2016-17, after four full years of using ALEKS in grades 6 through 8, the school’s score was 82.2, bringing it from “meets expectations” to “exceeds expectations.” Peers at West Middle School went from 70 (meets expectations) to 77 (exceeds expectations) during the same period.

ALEKS uses a color-coded pie chart with each slice corresponding to a topic, to indicate a degree of mastery. Students and teachers can easily track student progress and identify areas that need practice. “When a learner takes an assessment on ALEKS, if they have not retained the knowledge, the topic will return to their ALEKS pie for continued work toward mastery,” Bennin says.

Students use this information to set goals, using embedded videos to dive deeper into the material and gaining independence while mastering problem-solving. Teachers use ALEKS to identify which students will benefit from small-group instruction. “That’s where teacher expertise comes in,” Bennin says.

Workshop learning

When implementing ALEKS, the middle schools went from 47-minute classes to 80-minute workshops, allowing each student 30 minutes for ALEKS and 50 minutes for hands-on, small-group, peer-assisted or class instruction.

“When ALEKS is used to augment teaching and to adapt instruction for all students, it works for all students,” Bennin says. “ALEKS helps students who need more support, and for advanced learners, it really takes the lid off.”

With the success of ALEKS, the district recently piloted an elementary math program called Redbird Mathematics. Developed at Stanford University and offered by McGraw-Hill Education, Redbird Math helps improve engagement during application-driven math lessons.

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