IT ALL ADDS UP
The numbers are as large as Desiree Quintero, 7, is tiny. The first-grader at Waelder Elementary School easily subtracts 169,396 from 176, 543, borrowing three times as she works on each column of numbers.
Desiree isn’t the prodigy of her class. The problem she did came straight off the assignment sheet that every other first-grader in her class had to complete last week. Next door, kindergartners are practicing multiplication of fives; … in another room, fifth graders are adding and subtracting fractions.
These students are learning arithmetic through an innovative curriculum developed by Paul Shoecraft, a professor at the University of Houston at Victoria…. The curriculum, called MOVE IT Math, uses Children’s love of playing games, singing and dancing to teach them arithmetic.
The 130 students at the school make up roughly half of the Waelder Independent School District in a small town about 55 miles southeast of Austin, said Norman Woolsey, elementary school principal. The students are 60 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black and 10 percent white. Most are from low-income families, he said.
It isn’t hard to find schools with largely minority and poor enrollments in Austin and throughout the nation. And it is at those schools where a growing achievement gap in test scores between white students and minority students has been documented. But in Waelder, that scenario is changing.
In the 18 months the school has used MOVE IT Math, scores on national and statewide standardized tests have risen significantly. In 1991, 65 percent of third-graders mastered the math section of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills exam. In 1992, that figure jumped to 93 percent....
Pupils are performing at least a grade level higher than their peers on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, a national exam. Second-graders’ math skills were at the mid-fourth-grade level, for example.
In fact, the program’s results have gotten notice in high places. Gov. Ann Richards has praised MOVE IT Math, said Leticia Vasquez, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. “She likes that program. She saw it in action in Victoria about two years ago and was very impressed, as was (state Comptroller) John Sharp,” Vasquez said….
As word about the program has spread, it has attracted admirers who praise it as the way to turn around the slug- xxx
-gish test scores, boredom and anxiety that math spells for many students, and detractors, who are skeptical and criticize it as sort of a glorified finger counting system.
“It’s very impressive when you first see it because the kids are manipulating large numbers,” said Timy Baranoff, who observed MOVE IT Math when the Austin Independent School District was considering the curriculum several years ago. “It’s very showy.”
Baranoff, who retired last month, is former AISD director of elementary instruction and curriculum. She said she did not like the curriculum because she was concerned that young students did not have a firm grasp of basics that they would need later on.
“Are the kids truly understanding what’s happening when they are manipulating those huge numbers?” she asked.
Ann Powell, AISD math coordinator for grades kindergarten through 12, shares Baranoff’s feelings. She said she did not see the children being taught problem solving; instead, they were being taught computation.
“Computation is when you give the child a page of basic problems to work in addition or subtraction. Problem solving is a real life situation: If you had eight marbles and John had 10, how many marbles are there? They need to use no gimmicks to work these problems to show they can come up with the answer because we don’t (use gimmicks) in everyday life,” she said.
Mary Lester, director of mathematics for the Dallas Independent School District where 30 elementary schools have volunteered to use the program, disagrees. “I contend there is a lot of problem solving in MOVE IT Math,” she said. “You have to first decide what is a problem. ‘Mary had 75¢ and John gave her 25¢, how much is that?’ is not a problem.” …
Lester said teachers in Dallas are enthusiastic about the program. They have told her that they especially enjoy having more control over tailoring their classes to their students’ needs. Students in the program learn far more than the arithmetic textbooks for their grades cover, she and Shoecraft said….
Waelder third-grade teacher Doris Richards said being freed from the textbook is “the best thing that has ever happened in my career.” And because they can do math so well, the children have a view of themselves not often expressed outside of gifted and talented programs. It was summed up by Lionel Elias, a 10-year-old fifth-grader: “Everybody in our school is smart.” (Italics added.)
Austin American-Statesman, Feb. 25, 1993