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Improving Algebra I STAR test scores through multiplication tables practice and rational number practice
Only 28% of California students score proficient or higher on their Algebra I STAR test (CDE, 2009). The standards-based movement and the emphasis on enabling all students to score proficient or advanced on the California STAR test have created a high-stakes environment for teachers. Many students enter eighth grade not knowing their multiplication facts and fractions. Statistics also show that many eighth-grade students in California score poorly on the Algebra I STAR test. Though there has been minimal research on the connection between these two phenomena, a strong correlation between not knowing “math basics” and scoring poorly on the Algebra I STAR test would seem plausible. Accordingly, the central research question for this study was: What is the impact of practicing multiplication facts and fractions problems twice a week on a selected group of eighth-grade students’ Algebra I STAR test scores? The author (an eighth-grade math teacher) and another teacher divided the participating students into an experimental group and a control group. The study began on Monday, November 15, 2010, and ended on Friday, February 18, 2011. The control group simply took a pretest at the beginning of the study and then a posttest 11 academic weeks (weeks that each school was in session) later. The experimental group took the same pretest and posttest, but also practiced multiplication facts and fraction problems during the intervening 11-week period. The experimental group took timed multiplication fact and fraction problem quizzes twice per week, each of them lasting 2.5 minutes. These quizzes counted toward the students’ overall math grade as well. There are many ways to improve students’ Algebra I STAR test scores. Practicing multiplication facts and fractions is an already-known, specific strategy to help students better understand math basics. Researchers agree that practicing multiplication facts and fractions is good math pedagogy, but it has not been isolated as a particular practice to help students score higher on problems similar to those on the eighth-grade Algebra I STAR test. Analysis of the results suggests that practicing multiplication facts and fractions problems twice per week helps students score better on problems similar to those on the eighth-grade Algebra I STAR test, although longer-term effects have yet to be studied. I do not know if this practice is effective as a year-round remediation activity.