Fort Worth ISD will keep this math learning program — at least for now

The Fort Worth Independent School District’s board voted on Tuesday to spend $817,000 to renew an online learning program that district officials say is helping close skills gaps in math.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade will continue to have access to DreamBox, a math program produced by Discovery Education, through the 2024-25 school year. But if the district wants to keep the program beyond next year, officials will need to find a different way to pay for it.

The district began using the program in November 2022 as a part of its strategy to help students make up ground they lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

The district pays for the program using federal COVID relief dollars intended to help schools reopen safely and close learning gaps left over from the pandemic, said district spokesperson Jessica Becerra.

That relief money expires in September, and districts are required to send whatever they haven’t spent by then back to the U.S. Treasury. So if the district decides to continue using the program after the 2024-25 school year, it will need to come up with that money elsewhere, she said.

In response to a question posted online before the meeting by board member Michael Ryan, district officials said the program complements the district’s math curriculum, so the lessons they complete in the program reinforce the instruction they get from their teachers.

Students who used the program most were the ones who appeared to get the biggest benefits. District data shows that students who used the program at all averaged a year’s worth of academic growth in a school year. But students who completed five or more of the program’s lessons a week gained 1.3 years’ worth of ground in a school year.

Like most school districts across Texas and nationwide, Fort Worth ISD saw steep achievement declines in both reading and math after the pandemic.

On last year’s State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, students in the district posted limited gains in math compared to the previous year. Results of this year’s exams won’t be released until this summer, but district officials say there are reasons to be optimistic. During a board meeting in February, Superintendent Angélica Ramsey presented mid-year MAP assessment scores showing students made substantial progress in reading and math.

During the public comment period of the meeting, Amanda Inay, a fifth-grade teacher at Rufino Mendoza Elementary School, asked board members to approve the renewal, saying the program had made a big difference for her students.

The program allows teachers to see real-time data showing which concepts students have mastered and where they’re still struggling, she said. She noted the program’s data offerings are especially critical since assessment data analysts were among the 133 positions that district officials announced last February that they planned to cut.