Accelerated Math at Richfield STEM Elementary

Students pose with Richfield STEM School principal Amy Winter

Four years ago, Richfield STEM Elementary Principal Amy Winter began working on providing additional opportunities for her students to be challenged in math.

“Students would share with us that they were bored in math because they weren’t being challenged enough in class,” said Principal Winter. “So, we started implementing a new approach to math both with intervention and support, as well as through an accelerated pace.”

A guiding principle of this program has been the need to prepare and support students throughout their journey, starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school.

“We realized you can’t just expect a student to figure out how to accelerate in math in fourth grade,” said Principal Winter. “These are skills that you have to start fostering in kindergarten.”

As a STEM-focused school, each grade level curriculum already had a focus on math. With the implementation of the accelerated math curriculum, STEM incorporated more deliberate lessons targeting specific thinking skills and math concepts that are foundational at each grade level.

In third grade, all students take the NWEA MAP Test (Measures of Academic Progress). Students whose math scores are above-average are then tested with a fourth grade comprehensive assessment to further determine their current level. When students demonstrate an advanced level of understanding of math by scoring well on the comprehensive assessment, they are invited to the accelerated math program.

This program, designed for students in grades 4-5, completes three years of math curriculum across two years of school. Fourth graders in their first year of the program will complete fourth grade math and half of fifth grade math; then the following year, they will finish fifth grade math and complete all of sixth grade math.

“Our goal is to ensure we are providing the appropriate level of math for students at all stages of their academic career, including throughout middle and high school,” said Principal Winter.

Students who participated in the fourth and fifth grade program have the option to continue taking accelerated classes in middle school at a higher level of learning and with additional support.

“This program is amazing for these students and it’s something that they needed,” said Darci Sarazine, teacher of the accelerated math courses at STEM. “Being able to challenge them at the appropriate pace is a huge benefit for them.”

The accelerated math program at STEM is separate from the District’s Talent Development program, which Principal Winter says is a benefit: “I like that it’s a separate program because each student is unique. So students who may not be identified for Talent Development, but are strong in math concepts or enjoy doing math, are still able to be academically challenged in a supportive environment.”

The program, which began officially two years ago, hasn’t been without its challenges. Principal Winter cites the pandemic as causing some of the issues, explaining that the traditional markers for success—like high MAP and assessment scores—may not be appearing as they used to, due to the disruptions the pandemic has caused. 

“We are seeing high growth, and students who have the potential, but due to being out of school they’re not necessarily showing up in a traditional sense. So we are always reflecting and finding ways to make sure that the students who should be in the program are in the program.” 

Even with these challenges, the accelerated math program has created rich opportunities for learning for many students. 

“It is exciting when students come to math with me every day,” said Darci. “I know they are right where they need to be, they're learning and growing, and they're showing that in the classroom.”

The success of the accelerated math program at STEM has provided the opportunity to expand the program to the other elementary schools in Richfield. This year, all four elementary schools are offering an accelerated math option in fourth grade, and fifth grade accelerated math will be available at all four elementary schools in 2022-23 to help prepare students for success in middle school and beyond.

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In RPS, as educators, family members and lifelong learners, we acknowledge the patterns of inequality that still exist today. Together, as a community, we have the power to create change and to bring about racial, social and economic justice. 

Christina Gonzalez

Director of Student Support Services, Christina Gonzalez, has been awarded the Park Nicollet Foundation 2022 Community Service Award for her leadership, dedication and commitment to supporting students and families.