Denver's largest school turnaround effort is already producing student achievement that has surprised even early supporters of education reform in the city's far northeast.
"The math tutoring has been unreal. It's big," said Allen Smith, executive director of the 11 new and turnaround schools in far northeast, now called the Denver Summit Schools Network, or DSSN.
Community concerns made Smith have his doubts about the turnaround plan, but data presented to the Denver Public Schools board Thursday night show that from August through February, 30 percent of students had improved by as much as a grade level in math.
When the DSSN schools opened under new orders this fall, the seven that enroll fourth-, sixth- or ninth-graders started the year with a math-tutoring program.
In addition to hour-long math classes daily, students were assigned in groups of two or three to a tutor — or a math fellow, as the program calls them — for another hour during each school day.
Tutors collaborate weekly with math teachers. Each student takes a 5-minute online assessment daily that gives tutors and teachers data about what the student has retained.
"There was a lot of resistance at first," Smith said. "Kids had never been asked to participate in their own education like that. Now that those relationships are developed, they want to go to tutoring. They feel their voice is being heard, so it's also transferring to other classes."
On the most recent round of tests given every six weeks at the seven schools using the tutoring program, 370 students scored unsatisfactory, down from 594 at the beginning of the year, and 241 students tested proficient, up from 66.
The percentage of students scoring advanced in math increased to 10 percent of all students.
Data from interim assessments taken in the mainstream math classes show similar progress.
Besides tests, some students are asked to write about what they learn. It's writing practice but also gives tutors an idea about how students process what they learn.
"We are really about a meta-cognitive approach," said Stuart Ritchie, the math fellow coordinator at Collegiate Prep Academy. "We want to get away from the idea that there is one answer and one way to get there. Not every student is going to learn that procedural way. It's about understanding the concepts."
Collegiate Prep Academy student Abigail Venegas, 15, said math was a subject she never thought she would like, but she is surprised at how much the tutoring has changed that.
"I really have a good grade in my class this year," Venegas said. "Last year I gave up. Math was hard, and it was embarrassing having to ask questions."
Building math confidence is a large part of what math fellows are there to do, officials and tutors said. In every tutoring cubicle, individual student scores are graphed out and displayed on the wall labeled with student identification numbers.
"We're not ashamed of it," Ritchie said. "It helps students really see where they're going."
Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372 or firstname.lastname@example.org