ST. PETERSBURG — Last fall, Woodlawn Elementary's math teachers locked up their textbooks in a music room closet. Faced with FCAT scores that figured in the school's D grade in 2007-08, the teachers decided to get radical and overhaul their math curriculum. It paid off. The school went from a D to a B this year, logging impressive gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, especially in math.
Instead of textbooks, teachers used games, group assignments and other materials. They also focused on showing students different ways to solve the same problem.
"We get to pull activities targeted for higher level of engagement with students, rather than using textbooks or worksheets," said teacher Denise White, who helped rewrite the curriculum.
"It was scary for people at first, but just about everybody embraced the idea of what we were trying to do," she said.
Students seemed to respond.
For example, 76 percent of Woodlawn's most challenged students improved their math scores, according to the Florida Department of Education, up from the 53 percent in 2007-2008.
This year, 57 percent of the school's fourth-graders are considered at grade level in math, up from 40 percent last year.
The improvement is a big deal for a school where four out of five students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
"What we were doing wasn't working," White said. "With our school population, they like things to be a little faster and fun. We need to bring that into math."
Forced to restructure because the school did not meet the federal No Child Left Behind Act standards, a team of teachers and district staff rewrote Woodlawn's math curriculum last summer, said Kathleen Proper, the school's principal until she retired last month.
"We took the math book out of classroom so teachers won't follow it page by page," Proper said. "We were trying to get children to do some critical thinking."
Woodlawn was the only school in the district facing No Child sanctions that overhauled its math curriculum, said Barbara Hires, the district's associate superintendent of school success.
But rewriting the math curriculum was only the latest step the school has taken to boost FCAT scores.
The two-letter grade jump also was the result of reading and writing programs as well as other changes.
Those included looping, where teachers stay with the same students for two years in a row. The school started a reading challenge, where students are asked to read a book for 15 or 30 minutes a night. School administrators formed a writing team that assisted teachers and students in classrooms.
"It was great to see the results," said Susan Whittln, the school's PTA vice president and a mother of eight. "It wasn't done in a year. There were great changes in the past couple of years."
Karen Russell is Woodlawn's new principal. She hopes to continue the progress next year.
"We want to keep moving on that path," she said.