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 Berkeley Pledge Special:

Math Tutoring Program Breaks the Cycle of Failure
Dedicated Tutors Help Elementary Students Excel in Math

posted June 16, 1998

Second-grader Florian Taussig cupped his hands under his chin and watched intently as his tutor checked his answers on a math quiz. “Yes!” he shouted as she marked the first answer correct. “Yes!” “Yes!” “Yes!” he yelled, thrusting his fist in the air for each right answer.

“I did it!” he said triumphantly, waving his perfect score.

Taussig is one of 90 elementary students at Washington Elementary School in West Contra Costa County whose math scores on standardized tests have soared with the help of an intensive after-school math tutoring program called Break The Cycle (BTC).

“What we know about this program is that it works,” says Ronald Stevenson, director of BTC. “We have worked hard and we are now seeing the results.”

Those results are impressive. At Washington, where most students score below the 39th percentile on standardized tests, students raised their math scores by an average of 25 percentile points on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

“Like a lot of college kids, I wanted to change the world,” says Sophia Niu, BTC program director, who started working for the program while she was a Berkeley sophomore. “With this job, I get to change it a little every day. “

Niu was so impressed with the program that she changed her minor to education and now plans a career in the field.

“It’s rewarding,” she says. “It’s not like pushing paper. You really get to make an impact on a child’s life.”

Washington first-, second- and third-graders meet with UC Berkeley undergraduate tutors three times a week for intensive, two-hour tutoring sessions lasting for eight weeks each semester.

The undergraduate tutors, who attend a week-long training session before entering the classroom, use colorful charts, games, blocks and most importantly humor to coach children to excel in math.

“We want them to work hard and have fun,” says Stevenson. “Humor is a very important tool.”

So are high expectations. Stevenson says BTC will only work at schools where the principal and the faculty believe that their students can excel and will provide the resources necessary to make the program work.

Students are tested before the program as well as after the eight-week session to track their progress. BTC program specialists use the initial test results to analyze the students’ weaknesses and design a curriculum to help them improve.

Stevenson says the goals of the program are both short and long-term. On the short-term, Stevenson says, the program aims to boost student achievement by providing the tutoring and learning environment for students to improve in math.

Stevenson says the program also tries to instill in students solid learning habits that will help them succeed over time and prepare them for algebra by the time they finish elementary school.

“We expect five out of 10 participating students to test above the 80th percentile in the district evaluative measure,” he says.

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