ELGIN, Texas (KXAN) — Texas students are about six weeks away from tackling their first state exams of the year and a Central Texas school that has struggled for years in math is hoping their extra efforts will pay off for a second year in a row.
“We feel like we’re on the right track and our students are working really hard,” said sixth grade math teacher Elizabeth Hodges.
In 2012, only 68 percent of eighth graders passed the math exam at Elgin Middle School, which was the TAKS test at the time. In 2013, 74 percent of eight graders passed the new, tougher STAAR exam.
According to numbers provided by the district, there was a 20 percent jump among African American students, and a 10 percent jump among low income students.
The principal is convinced it was the direct result of an online program called Think Through Math.
Last school year Elgin Middle School started requiring all sixth, seventh and eighth graders to do an extra 90 minutes of math a week using the technology.
“I was skeptical because it was going to be something outside of school,” said Hodges.
But students like Jaloni Fry, 12, who admits math is not her best subject, says the program is actually fun.
Students design their own own “avatar” to compete by answering multiple choice math questions. They compete against their own classmates, the entire school and other kids across the state. Online coaches are also available to help with questions around the clock.
Fry also gets to turn her points into cash, and donate to a charity of her choice.
“I chose St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital,” she said, “because it helps little kids.”
Principal Riza Cooper said other programs the district has shelled out money for in the past, such as extra tutoring and CSCOPE, failed to do the trick.
But Think Through Math, which is offered free through the state, was different from the start.
“It was a motivator, the students wanted to do it,” said Cooper. “I think the whole community is excited, our teachers are excited, our students our excited because they are feeling success.”
To date, more than 5,500 schools in Texas are using the program to to help more than 2 million students.
While it is free to school districts, this year alone the program is costing the state more than $7 million dollars. It is a one-time fee, meaning if more schools start using the program the price will stay the same.