At English High, a New Approach to Math Instruction Tallies Impressive Wins

A data-focused approach to math instruction has driven a stunning turnaround in state test scores at English High School in Jamaica Plain. Now schools officials are explaining how that strategy works.

WBUR reports that English High’s MCAS math scores jumped dramatically in 2015, with the percentage of “advanced” students more than doubling, and the percentage of failing students declining by two-thirds.

The results marked such a turnaround that state officials withheld the scores for weeks before certifying them as legitimate. The high-achieving sophomore class, who are now seniors at English High, are still hurt by that initial doubt.

“I remember that they thought that we cheated. The entire sophomore class was mad. Just because we come to English High — that’s what we thought about it. ‘How can Hispanics and black kids have such an improvement in, like, math scores?’ But it’s possible,” said student Carmen Bernabel.

Teachers and students credit an ongoing commitment to individual education plans, skill-building, and bouying students’ confidence. Ligia Noriega-Murphy, the school’s headmaster, struggles to neatly summarize her strategy:

Eventually, she arrives at a metaphor for how she wants to treat her students, straight out of Silicon Valley: “We see them as clients. They’re going to be successful if we really pay attention to their individual needs.”

Think Amazon or Netflix: tracking, customization and relentless catering to the customer.

But English High’s students don’t need movie recommendations, or monthly shipments of detergent. They need the skills that will serve them in college and beyond — and the confidence to know they can learn them.

Visit WBUR’S website to read about English High’s approach to data tracking to measure and ultimate support student advancement.