In the south central portion of Georgia lies the city of Fitzgerald, home of the Ben Hill County Middle School. Principal Michael Heitzman describes the culture and community at this school, with a student population of over 700, as positive and familial with a staff of "superheroes," but also with its share of challenges — particularly in mathematics.
"Going into the pandemic, we were probably below where we needed to be in terms of our math but then, with two years of COVID, we're further behind," Principal Heitzman said. "So, what we're trying to do is make up multiple years of academic growth in a very short period of time."
According to Georgia Milestones Assessment System data, the percentage of Ben Hill County Middle School students who tested at the beginner learner level in mathematics rose from 32 percent in 2019 to 46 percent in 2021. Troubled by this large increase in just two years, Principal Heitzman felt it was time to make a dramatic change. He, along with his administrative team and classroom math teachers, set out to find a new curriculum that better met their needs and would help accelerate math learning.
This is their story on how they made the decision to partner with Savvas Learning Company and implement a fully integrated instruction and assessment approach for math to better support its students and improve outcomes.
Identifying the Goals Needed to Accelerate Math Learning
Before launching their search, a team of Ben Hill administrators and math teachers first identified several key outcomes they wanted their new math program to help them deliver: it would empower Ben Hill educators to not only close learning gaps and raise test scores, but also enable the school's students to find joy in their math learning.
The math curriculum would also need to increase rigor in their math instruction, and incorporate the latest technology and instructional strategies to increase student engagement.
"We, as teachers, have a huge responsibility," said Kandice Powers, a Ben Hill math teacher. "Anything and everything that we implement in the classroom needs to have the sole purpose of benefiting our students. Having these resources gives us the ability to meet our students' needs."
Choosing a New Math Curriculum
In order to be as thoughtful and strategic as possible about choosing a resource that met their objectives, the team developed a roadmap — quite literally by using an image of a road with markers to illustrate major milestones in their journey — to help guide their search.
The first step was determining what Ben Hill's math teachers needed in order to best help their students succeed. Once they identified these needs, they used them to create a rubric to score the products they researched. After evaluating the results of the scoring, Savvas Learning Company's enVision Mathematics Grades 6-8, coupled with the Savvas Math Screener and Diagnostic Assessments (MSDA) tool, stood out as the best solutions to help accelerate math learning at Ben Hill.
"The teachers were excited to have Savvas come out on top," said Assistant Principal Dr. Selena Dawson. "I think they felt more comfortable and confident in knowing that, after going through this process, it wasn't something that was picked for them. But they had a share in making that decision."
How Savvas Solutions Are Meeting Teacher and Student Needs
Ben Hill's teachers started using its Savvas math solutions at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, and teachers like Stephanie Howell are starting to see positive results.
"By continuing to implement rigorous material like Savvas, we will raise our scores," she said.
Here are some ways in which the new Savvas resources are benefiting math teachers and students:
As the teachers gain valuable data by using the MSDA, they are creating highly individualized learning plans for their students that can be used during instructional time, as well during "Hurricane Time" — a daily, rotating 45-minute block, named after the school's sport teams' name, The Hurricanes, that is carved out especially for remediation — and after-school tutoring, where there is a heavy focus on Tier 2 instruction.
Math teacher Danielle Berry particularly likes the adaptive learning piece of the curriculum. "The adaptive practice is amazing. Students don't know they're working at different levels," she said. "They're not comparing themselves to each other. They're making themselves successful on their own path."
Looking Forward into the Future
Even though Ben Hill is just getting started with its new curriculum, the teachers and administration are optimistic.
"We're starting to see shifts and changes in our grades," said Dr. Dawson. "Everyone is getting back into a groove. They're ready to pick back up and they're ready to close gaps."
Mr. Heitzman is confident the use of a more rigorous, high-quality math curriculum, combined with a powerful assessments tool, will help get students caught up on unfinished learning and really improve academic outcomes.
"Success breeds success," he said. "And we feel very strongly that our kids can do it. We have great kids."
“The teachers at our middle school are very resourceful. The math department is very helpful with each other. We meet often to share ideas. I’ll share anything and I’m always open to new ways of thinking. We care about all of our students. We go home at night and think, ‘What can I do tomorrow that I didn’t do today to help them understand the lesson, or master that skill?’ It’s constantly on our minds.”
Grade 7 Math Teacher
“Our new endeavor is called ‘Hurricane Time.’ This time was given to us for the sole purpose of remediation and acceleration. We can use this time for small-group instruction on the level of our students. I believe that our current resources and Hurricane Time are going to allow us to close the gaps that were caused by our multiple shutdowns. Our students have the want and ability to succeed.”
Grade 6 Math Teacher
“Mr. Heitzman is very proactive about making this a good place for the kids and he wants teachers to establish positive relationships with the students. And I agree with that because if the students don’t know you and trust you, they’re not going to take instruction from you. So you have to start laying that groundwork up front.”
Math Resource Teacher
“I love my job. I really do. I try to talk to every student every day. I have to develop a relationship with them where they know what I expect from them and nothing less. And my classes are controlled, but they know I love what I do, and I love them. They have to have someone who believes in them. I think that goes a long way.”
“Savvas introduces math in several ways. You can open a lesson with a very engaging 3-act task, you can be hands on with the students. You can get their brains thinking before you introduce a lesson … The adaptive practice is amazing. Students don’t know they’re working at different levels. They’re not comparing themselves to each other. They’re making themselves successful on their own path.”
Grade 7 Math Teacher