How one Chicago-area school district is beating the statistics in math

July 16, 2018

Research shows that early-grade mathematics, along with early literacy, is one of the most fundamental building blocks of future academic success. Unfortunately, while early literacy has received significantly increased attention in schools in recent years, studies show that early math has not received the equal treatment. And the proof is in the proverbial pudding–last year, just 40% of US 4th graders performed at grade level in mathematics. Outcomes are even worse among Latino and African American students, with just 26% and 19% scoring proficient or better.

These poor outcomes are a urgent problem. Not only is early math proficiency highly predictive of positive educational outcomes later in life (graduation rates, etc.), they also open the doorway to future economic opportunities. Most of the nation’s fastest growing professions—largely in STEM fields—are heavily reliant on math. Our failure to emphasize math early therefore puts millions of students at risk of being shut out of well-paying jobs.

Berwyn North School District 98, a small sub-urban school district just 30 minutes west of downtown Chicago, used to be just another statistic in this drumbeat of bad news. Just two years ago, only 14% of the district’s 3rd grade students scored at grade level in math. But after a comprehensive review of its mathematics curriculum, programs for ELL students, and use of technology, Berwyn North is steadily ratcheting up it achievement levels. It’s a powerful example of what’s possible when math instruction is done the right way.

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