Graham's "Math Accelerated Program," or MAP, is modeled after a similar program at Foothill, "Math My Way," which seeks to help students who are missing math basics fill in the blanks. Faculty at both Graham and Crittenden Middle School worked closely with Foothill instructors to develop their own version of the program, specifically for younger students.
Students at the middle schools were selected based on their California Standards Test (CST) scores. None of the students in the program — about 350 children district-wide — were proficient in math on the CST.
"These are kids that are struggling, that have never been successful historically in math," said Kim Thompson, assistant principal at Graham, who was the director of a condensed MAP program last summer.
Although there is a significant age gap between the students, the classrooms at Graham, Crittenden and Foothill look almost alike: Students work individually through 10 "modules," starting at the beginning with whole number concepts. The math students must write out each problem, box their answers and correct every mistake on their work.
There are no grades in the typical sense: To pass an exam at the end of each module, and move on through the program, students must score 87 percent or better.
"The philosophy is the kids will master the standards," Thompson said. "You don't move on without mastering."
After the students take their assessment tests, the teachers meet and re-shuffle the classes. Students are grouped by their progress, so they will always be amongst peers who are around the same level.
"The kids love the switch," McGhee said, acknowledging that it has been an adjustment for the six math teachers at Graham, who now use their planning period to coordinate the switches and discuss student progress.
"The time management is a big issue," said Mike Ruth, a seasoned math teacher who is new to the district this year. "The math teachers basically gave up their planning period. I've never worked somewhere where teachers voluntarily do that."
"It's definitely a positive for the kids," he added. And the students seem to agree.
"It's kind of fun because different teachers have different ways of making you reach your goals," said Jose Cruz, a seventh grader in McGhee's class.
And while for some it may seem like the switching could incite competition, the students insisted the MAP classes were more about camaraderie.
"The reason most of us are in here is we've missed something somewhere," said eighth grader Peter Knight.
McGhee said another major boon of the program is simply teaching the students how to be students.
"I've never, in 13 years of teaching, had beginning level students show so much work," he said.
McGhee said he is hoping for more hard data to support what he believes is true: The MAP program is working. After their first trimester assessment, he said, 85 percent of students were advanced or proficient at their level of study. About 30 students will exit the program next year into their regular grade-level math, he said.
"They came into the program three to four years behind, and in one year got on grade level," McGhee said.
"They have a lot more confidence now in math than ever before," he added.