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Everard Barrett and His Effective Math program! Guest Blog from Mark Stolzberg, Ph.d.

Posted by Mollie Shaw on

Professor Barrett and I were thick as thieves for many years, but it did not begin that way. I was a psychologist, just out of school, working in the Roosevelt Public School System on Long Island. The superintendent gave me the responsibility of analyzing various educational programs and I was proud of that responsibility; felt rather territorial about it. One day, I heard about a math program that had been in one of our elementary schools. It was claimed that fifth and sixth graders took the ninth grade algebra regents and scored, on average, twelve points higher than the ninth graders! At first, I felt insulted that no one asked me to evaluate the program until three years after it had begun. Surely, it was a fraud. I began looking at the data and found that it was true. I figured it must have been at the expense of grade level work. No, turned out that these same students averaged a year above grade level in math. It must have been because they chose only the better students. No, they chose all students in the most academically problematic elementary school in the district. I met Professor Barrett and we talked about his pedagogy; about how and why he developed it.
The program continued in Roosevelt for years after, with many students who would have fallen by the wayside excelling in math; going on to good colleges. It was a very strange sight to walk into second and third grade classrooms with very small desks and to look at the black board to see problems like multiplication and division of mixed fractions on the board.
One major problem that we kept running into was the ceiling effect. Professor Barrett's students kept scoring so high on grade level tests that we could not measure them accurately and left very, very positive results on the table time after time.
After seeing the consistently great results across many districts, I contacted the New York State Department of Education and gave them some of our data. The man in charge of math, Fred Paul I believe his name was, refused to even consider taking Professor Barrett's method for state funded research because it contradicted Piagetian constructs about age readiness for advanced math skills. I was young and felt too intimidated to give much push back at the time.
Over the years, I evaluated Professor Barrett's program in many districts. One in particular comes to mind. An upper middle class Long Island district representing a prestigious town. After several years, the results were astonishingly good. Nevertheless, the program was criticized because it only helped the better students. I did another analysis and recall that the students who were below average to start were at the 33rd percentile and averaged at the 67th percentile at the end. Of course, most of the better students excelled beyond their wildest dreams. At a board meeting, the head of the math department complained that there would be a faculty employment problem because students would typically have completed all high school math requirements before entering high school. I thought that this argument was laughable. The superintendent caved immediately!!! I was stunned.
Knowing Professor Barrett was an absolute highlight of my personal and professional lives.
Mark Stolzberg, Ph.d

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