SACRAMENTO, CA - Ninth graders seem eager as they crunch numbers in a Sacramento classroom.
They're taking Algebra II although many of them failed Algebra I last year. "I really didn't get math. My teachers really didn't explain it," said freshman Edgar Cazares. "Now (I have) straight A's and B's in every class and I got an A+ in Algebra II."
Cazares and his classmates attribute their turnaround to math teacher Kadhir Rajagopal. He's known as "Mr. Raja" to students at Grant High School.
"When I came to Sacramento, I asked to work with some of the most challenging students," Rajagopal said. "I wanted to help kids in an urban inner-city school."
Rajagopal said his students took a six-week Algebra I class with him over the summer and were able to come up to grade level. Test scores show they're also doing well in Algebra II.
"Most of my students are Latino and African-American or they're from low-income families," said Rajagopal. "They've outperformed the district and state average on all standardized exams in algebra. They've outperformed white students and closed the achievement gap. They've also outperformed higher income students."
Rajagopal has written a book about the CREATE teaching model that he uses in the classroom. According to Rajagopal, "The teacher must make sure the students master the objective in class and not just lecture to them and depend on homework for mastery."
He repeats concepts over and over until students comprehend them. He believes they can do it and students say he's a breath of fresh air.
"I was a student who always got into trouble because I didn't understand math," said sophomore Mikeasha Daniels. "He was different. I was in a whole new environment. He was outgoing and fun. He jumped around the room and kept our attention."
Rajagopal also uses terms students can relate to. Different sides of the equations are known as "the East Coast" and "the West Coast." Groups of numbers are called "the brothas" and single digits are referred to as "loners."
"These students also like to talk a lot," Rajagopal said. "So they talk to each other and help each other out. I have them go to the board and explain to the entire class. They don't get bored."
Many of his students have never traveled outside of Sacramento. Now they're traveling around California talking to large groups of teachers about their success and what works for them.
Rajagopal believes success in his classroom will translate to success in the future. "Studies show if you take Algebra II, you're three times more likely to get a bachelor's degree in college. My students are proving it's possible," he said.
by Karen Massie, firstname.lastname@example.org