Home Written work Half of the students at this Alabama school live in poverty. Here’s how they beat the odds in math.

Half of the students at this Alabama school live in poverty. Here’s how they beat the odds in math.


Alabama students have earned a reputation for not being good at math. But don’t tell that to Cordova Elementary Principal Dianne Williams.

Williams runs the 400-pupil rural primary school nestled in the hills of Walker County about 35 minutes northwest of Birmingham. His school is one of Alabama’s “high flyers” — schools identified by AL.com that have many poor students and little local tax support, but have some of the highest academic achievement in the country. State.

Principal of the school for 11 years, Williams is proud of her students’ achievements in mathematics. She is passionate and practical about students’ need to understand math.

“Mathematics is about life,” she said. “Everything we do in life comes down to math.”

Math is where it really shines: over 45% of students tested achieved math fluency in tests for the 2020-21 school year. That’s more than double the state’s 22% proficiency rate.

Half of students in Córdoba receive free or reduced-price meals; 38% of those students achieved proficiency in math, more than three times the state’s 11% proficiency rate for students living in poverty.

Williams said it was important for students to get a solid foundation because math is getting harder in the early grades now. With Alabama’s new math standards, students can take algebra classes in seventh grade.

“Now they have to make a decision about advanced math by the end of sixth grade,” she said. “When I was in high school, you didn’t even think about algebra until ninth grade.”

Read more: Alabama’s High Raiders

Testing data shows Cordova Elementary has had the highest math skill levels among elementary schools in the county for five straight years, although skill levels dipped slightly last spring.

Stacia Chappell, a third-grade teacher at Cordova Elementary, leads her math class in Cordova, Alabama, in May 2022. Trisha Powell Crain/AL.com

Cordova Elementary featured many of the same pedagogical and cultural practices as other top students, including a strong focus on tracking improved student achievement over time and a culture of high expectations for all students.

Tall students show strong academic achievement even when money is tight. In the 2019-20 school year, Cordova Elementary School spent $9,475 per student, which is below the state average of $10,100 per student.

Of this total, $600 came from local funding. Statewide, schools in Alabama spend an average of $1,800 per student in local taxes.

In Walker County, the median household income in 2020 was $45,833. In the small town of Cordova, the median household income is $21,900. Alabama’s median household income in 2020 was $52,035.

Cordoba Primary School

Cordova Elementary School in Walker County Schools. 2022 file photo. Trisha Powell Crain/AL.com

Follow-up of achievements

Williams and her teachers keep each student’s name written on a whiteboard in the data room to track progress on various standards.

Progress is tracked, color coded red, yellow, blue and green. Grouping by grade helps create a team atmosphere among teachers, she said, where the team takes responsibility for improvement in all classrooms.

Student progress is assessed three times a year. Teachers use this data to guide instruction. Williams meets weekly with grade level teams to review what the data shows students need.

Williams said she expects this year’s data to reflect the impact of COVID on student lives.

“It will take another year and a half, two years before we really overcome this COVID effect on our students,” she said.

Williams invested the bulk of her school’s $100,000 in Title I money this year to recruit teachers who can work with students one-on-one to individualize learning.

“I choose to spend more of my money on intervention teachers – retired teachers, very good teachers, not just a retired teacher,” she said, “who I think will have an impact on education.

Cordoba Kindergarten

Cordova Elementary kindergarten teacher Anna Palmer leads students through an ability lesson in May 2022, in Cordova, Alabama. Trisha Powell Crain/AL.com

Teaching standards

Williams expects teachers to adhere to Alabama teaching standards. And she makes sure that teachers not only know the standards for their own grade level, but that they know what the standards are for the higher and lower grades.

“It doesn’t start in third grade when they take the test,” she said.

Kindergarteners start learning important concepts early; At a recent lesson in May, kindergarten teacher Anna Palmer stood in front of the class, behind a tub filled with water with a series of transparent containers, all of different sizes.

“We’re learning a new word,” she says. “Our new word is capacity. Everyone says it, ready?

Palmer guided the kindergartners through the lesson, holding two containers of visibly different sizes and asking which will hold the most and which will hold the least, pushing his way through all the containers.

Third-grade math teacher Stacia Chappell has been teaching third-grade math for 20 years, and 13 of those have been at Cordova Elementary. She teaches math and science to two of the four sections of third graders.

Chappell said his students were well prepared for third-grade math when they came to his class.

“When they come to me, they usually have a pretty good idea of ​​the basics, and I don’t have a lot of remedial work to do,” she said. “Throughout my career, that hasn’t always been the case. I would have children who would be a year or two behind in mathematics.

On a typical day, she says, students take two lessons. Several recordings help Chappell know which students are struggling.

Cordoba Primary School

Teachers at Cordova Elementary School use data to drive student instruction.

When discussing a new concept, Chappell checks in with the students asking for their nudge to see if they understand.

“When they turn and talk [with each other]I listen to their conversations to see if they sound like they’re on the right track,” she said.

If they aren’t, Chappell will step in to help. During the intervention time, she will work individually with students in difficulty or supervise students who use computer programs that push them towards more difficult problems.

Candace Brown also teaches third grade math and science. She taught third grade for five of her 12 years as an educator.

In his class, students solved subtraction, addition, multiplication, geometry, and area and perimeter problems on personal computers.

A student demonstrated how she calculated the area of ​​a rectangle. “The width is three meters, the length is four meters and two meters have been added to the length. I know six times three equals 18,” she exclaimed.

“They want to do better,” Brown said, “and we’re really working with them to find out what they’re learning and where they’re at and what they need to work on.”

Chappell said the state’s shift to a new way of learning math beyond rote memorization and formulas is a good thing. Kids finding more ways to solve problems means more kids are learning more math, she said.

“Every day won’t be a failure. And when they finally get it? So wow.