Maury River Middle School
Outside Maury River Middle School (Photo by Claire Hamlet)

By Claire Hamlet

Most Maury River Middle School students failed to meet the minimum grade requirement on the math section of the Standards of Learning tests last spring, prompting the district to implement an online program in January.

Tim Martino, assistant superintendent of Rockbridge County Schools, said 370 of 455 students at Maury River Middle School failed to achieve a score of 477 out of 600 on the SOL Math.

In response, the school system is requiring the 370 students to enroll in an online tutoring program called Zearn Math.

The state Department of Education funds Zearn Math, which is designed for students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

Maury River Middle School Principal Vicki Stevens said students use Zearn for 30 minutes every day when they arrive at school in the morning. Grade school students use it only three days a week.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how well received it’s been by students and teachers,” Stevens said. “The format is game-like, so students are learning without feeling like it’s work.”

Stevens said Zearn adapts to each student’s capability. “Depending on how they do, they might get sent backward in the program or keep moving forward,” she said.

Anna O’Sullivan, Zearn director of communications, said the program complements the instruction they receive in a classroom.

During a Zearn session, students toggle between reviewing concepts and learning new ones. O’Sullivan said the program will circle back to foundational math if students begin to struggle with more complex lessons.

Pandemic impact

Martino said parents and teachers initially expressed concerns about increasing screen time for students with another online program, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on schools.

“We learned during Covid that we need to get students off screens more, and that is why the time has been kept fairly low,” Martino said.

Mallory Wurster, a sixth-grade math teacher at Maury River, said middle school students are now struggling with concepts they were supposed to learn during the pandemic.

“Multiplication was a big learning loss,” she said.

Wurster said students are having trouble with division as a result. And fractions are even harder for them.

“Math is such a building block,” she said, “and so then if they’re not catching those pieces before they come, they just get really lost when they get to this point.”

She said her students’ enthusiasm for Zearn has changed.

“At first, they were really excited and some of them wanted to do it at home,” Wurster said.

“But sometimes they get frustrated when they’re not understanding it and they get sent backwards.”

Stevens said students will use Zearn until late March when their teachers will begin reviews to prepare for the annual Math SOL.

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