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A Model for Urban Student Engagement and Achievement


The C.R.E.A.T.E. model can be used by any teacher in any subject.  My success with students using the model has been in mathematics.  Therefore, the following section describes the significant epidemic of urban math failure before presenting the C.R.E.A.T.E. model and the successful results it has helped students achieve.

“Failure in algebra is the #1 trigger of dropouts in high school”
- Helfand, 2007

“70% of students who don’t pass algebra by the 9th grade drop out of high school”
- The California Dropout Research Project, 2008

Failure in the three foundational math classes, algebra, geometry, and algebra 2, can also be perceived as a major roadblock because, as many influential policy makers including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have declared, math is the “gateway” to college and higher-paying careers (Tucker, 2008).  Research by the U.S. Department of Education explains how of all the high school courses, the highest level of mathematics taken is the most important for college success (Adelman, 1999).

“Algebra is the gateway to college and higher paying careers in a new technical world. ”
-Governor Schwarzenegger

Unfortunately, failure or poor performance in foundational math classes such as algebra is a national epidemic facing urban secondary education and adversely impacting students of color. The National Assessment of Educational Progress states that the “overwhelming number of low-achieving students in algebra are black and Hispanic and attend big urban, high-poverty schools where they are more likely to fall through the cracks” (Loveless, 2008).   Moreover, African American and Hispanic students are about twice as likely as whites and three times as likely as Asians to cease their math careers at the lower level of algebra (Adelman, 1999).

Out of 48,000 students, LAUSD in 2006 handed out Ds and Fs to 29,000 beginning algebra students — enough to fill eight high schools in L.A
- Helfand, 2007
While the epidemic of poor performance for urban youth in the “gateway” course exists statewide, it is especially exacerbated in urban districts like LAUSD where the student population is 73% Latino and 11% African American. Research by the U.S. Department of Education indicates that the single greatest predictor of college preparedness and successful college completion is the taking of high level mathematics courses during high school (Adelman, 1999).

“80% of the CA prison population did not graduate from high school.”
- Schargel, 2001

“...overwhelming number of low-achieving students in algebra are black and Hispanic and attend big urban, high-poverty schools where they are more likely to fall through the cracks”
-Loveless, 2008

The failure in foundational math classes for urban students of color is seen in the fact that only between 8 and 10% of African American and Latino students in California were proficient in algebra based on the 2008 California Standardized Test of Algebra (Education Trust, 2008).   Overall, 65% of African American students and 60% of Latino students who took algebra scored below the basic level on the California Standards Test in Algebra.  By contrast, 65% of white students and 80% of Asian students who took algebra scored at the basic level or above (Education Trust, 2008).    

“Mathematics is clearly the remedial course with the highest enrollment (77%). The content ranges from basic arithmetic up to intermediate algebra ”
- National Center for Education Statistics, 2003

The achievement gap is also seen in relation to income.  In the state of California, low income students performed worse than high income students.  60% of students in low income families were below basic in Algebra.  On the other hand, 62% of economically advantaged students were above basic.   

This statewide epidemic of urban math failure also adversely affects students at Grant Union High School in Sacramento, CA. In the midst of consistent algebra failure at Grant High School, I have been able to achieve different results with low income urban students in algebra.  My students have consistently outperformed thousands in the district. 
I have used specific strategies that have helped the majority of my once low-performing students to succeed in algebra and perform at a basic and higher level of mastery and outperform their peers throughout the entire Twin Rivers District and state of California.  The strategies I have used have been integrated into an instructional model called C.R.E.A.T.E. 

This model emphasizes pedagogical practices that are grounded in research and have proven to be successful in my classroom. For the purposes of this study, the students who are taught under the C.R.E.A.T.E. model will be referred to as the C.R.E.A.T.E. students. 

C.R.E.A.T.E. Instructional
Model Success

The success that Grant students have experienced under the C.R.E.A.T.E. instructional model has been documented over the last two years during which I have taught algebra to the Special Day Class and General population.  The “Special Ed” population that I taught in 2007 consisted of students who had learning disabilities and behavioral challenges.  Most of the population was African American and Latino and came from highly dysfunctional backgrounds.  Many of the students had disabilities ranging from hyper attention deficit disorder to mild cerebral palsy.  Their math skills levels were at the third grade level according to traditional tests of basic skills and intelligence such as the Woodcock Johnson.  They were not expected to do the same algebra as the general population because of their disabilities.  But I challenged them and they did the same curriculum and took the same standardized tests as the general population.

The Results with
“Special Ed”

In October 2007, the C.R.E.A.T.E. students in the Special Day Class took the district wide midterm assessment and outperformed the entire district. The “Special Ed” kids had an average of 56% and the district had an average of 46%. In December 2007, the Special Day Class took the 1st semester district wide final exam. Their average score was 62% and the district’s average was 42%. Grant High School’s average score was only 39% on that same final exam.

Furthermore, the Special Day Class outperformed the district with an average score of 57% compared to 43% for the district on the 3rd quarter and 4th quarter final exam for algebra. It is important to recognize that the Special Day Class was required to show their work on each problem and not simply bubble in answers on the multiple choice standardized exam.

While using the C.R.E.A.T.E. instructional model, I have seen success with the Special Day Class population, I have also had positive experiences with the general population which I taught during the 2008-2009 school year. The C.R.E.A.T.E. students during that school year performed at a higher proficiency level on every district wide quarter exam than other students throughout the district. In April 2009, the C.R.E.A.T.E. students took the CST statewide algebra exam in algebra. 71% of the C.R.E.A.T.E. students scored basic and above on the test including 37% who scored proficient. They beat the rest of the school and the Twin Rivers Unified School District (TRUSD) in terms of the percent of students scoring above basic. Finally, the C.R.E.A.T.E. students outperformed the state of California on the algebra CST. The state had 51% of students scoring at a basic or above level and 25% at a proficient level.

“…even middle class and upper middle class African American and Latino students don’t achieve as well as poor white counterparts”
- State Superintendent O’Connell

The C.R.E.A.T.E. students also exceeded the rest of the school, district and state in closing the achievement gap in terms of ethnicity and income. 71% of C.R.E.A.T.E. African American students were at a basic or above level and 42% were proficient. For the state, only 35% of African American students reached basic and 13% were proficient. Furthermore, 68% of C.R.E.A.T.E. Latino students reached basic or above and 29% were proficient. This was higher than the state average for Latinos which was 41% basic and above and 16% proficient. Both Latino and African American C.R.E.A.T.E. students outperformed the state average for White students. For example, 65% of white students were basic and above and 36% were proficient. The racial achievement gap was therefore closed by the C.R.E.A.T.E. students.

Finally, the C.R.E.A.T.E. students closed the achievement gap in terms of income level. 99% of Grant High School students receive free or reduced lunch. For low income students in the state, the average performance on the algebra CST was 42% basic and above and only 17% met the proficient level. For economically advantaged students in the state the average was 62% basic and above and 35% proficient. The C.R.E.A.T.E. students had an average of 71% basic and above and 37% proficient and above. Therefore, the C.R.E.A.T.E. students exceeded the performance of similar low income populations AND ALSO economically advantaged students throughout the state.

By the end of the 2008-2009 school year, the SDC class and the general population taught by me using the C.R.E.A.T.E. model at Grant High School had shocked the entire community and educators throughout the district. How could the Special Day Class in particular have done so well and outperformed thousands of other students in the district on every exam they were not supposed to take? How could the general population at Grant High School exceed the state average and close the achievement gap in terms of ethnicity and income? Moreover, could the success seen in my class using C.R.E.A.T.E. be replicable in other classrooms?

The following section delves into the C.R.E.A.T.E. model that has led to student success in my classroom. The underlying theme of this model is that the factor that has the greatest impact on student achievement is the effectiveness of the classroom teacher.


While the model will help teachers reach all students, its main mission is to empower teachers to reach kids who are often left out or are underserved in our classrooms.  This is what I call the target population.

“Every single time you don’t educate a child, you make a very dangerous member of the society.”
- Steve Perry, CNN

The target population refers to 2 types of students who struggle and are at risk of performing poorly in the classroom.  The first type is the student who acts out and loudly struggles.  As a result of not being engaged or not understanding the math or science, the student talks when he is not supposed to.  He throws pencils or breaks class rules because he is not engaged.  The other student is the quiet or “under the radar” student who doesn’t understand the material.  The “under the radar” students won’t tell you they are lost. They will quietly nod their head or act as if they are masters of the content. They won’t tell anyone they don’t get it.  Their lack of learning will not be revealed until a test or a major assessment unfortunately.  The target population in most urban schools throughout America is disproportionately African American and Latino.  Therefore, the C.R.E.A.T.E. model is meant to help educators reach the target population which is often our black and brown kids. 



  • Students WHO MAY ACT OUT

Engaging Students
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