Kassani Newson and her second-grade classmates sat in a darkened classroom last week, each at a laptop computer, each tapping a mouse pad to try to solve the problem that would allow an animated penguin named JiJi to cross a virtual obstacle.
"When you get it right, you get a point," 7-year-old Kassani said. "If you get to 100, you get to go to the next level. It's like a little game."
It may have seemed like a game, but Kassani and her El Dorado Elementary classmates were learning mathematical concepts with the help of instructional software purchased last summer by Stockton Unified. The software, ST Math, is intended for K-5 students but also is being used in some cases to assist middle-school children struggling to grasp math concepts.
"The program teaches conceptually," said El Dorado principal Kristin Buckenham. "A lot of our students were struggling with the procedures to figure out math concepts. This reinforces the teachers' direct instruction."
The purchase of ST Math was one of the first items on Superintendent Steve Lowder's agenda when he took charge in June. Lowder said the program, created by the Santa Ana-based Mind Research Institute nonprofit group, had benefited students at his previous district in Hemet. He believed it also would aid the children of Stockton Unified.
On Aug. 28, Stockton Unified's school board unanimously approved spending $2.6 million in restricted funds to purchase ST Math. Three days later, the state released 2012 California Testing and Reporting scores that provided a jarring reminder of just how far Stockton Unified's students were lagging.
The scores showed that only 45 percent of Stockton Unified's second- through fifth-grade students had scored in the proficient or advanced range on the math portion of the 2012 STAR tests -- in stark contrast to the 67 percent statewide rate.
"It was a natural for us," Lowder said of ST Math. "You could do it immediately and have serious positive benefits for kids."
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