School district moves to help Latinos make the grade in math |

School district moves to help Latinos make the grade in math

Eben Harrell

The Roaring Fork School District has partnered with a Boulder-based software company to help Latino students overcome language barriers in mathematics.

Digital Directions International, which has an office in Carbondale, has designed an Internet-based program called Help with English Language Proficiency (HELP) to teach students technical math terms in English.

Next fall, the Internet program will be available to schools in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Denver.

Contrary to the belief that math is the “universal language,” English Language Learner (ELL) students in Colorado and across the nation have performed poorly on standardized math exams.

Colorado standardized testing known as CSAPs indicate that only 10 percent of ninth-grade and 5 percent of 10th-grade Latinos are classified as “proficient” in math, according to figures provided by Digital Directions.

“What’s holding ELL students back in math is the language barrier,” said Barbara Freeman, chief operations officer for Digital Directions. “Students are blocked by technical language. Imagine having to guess what ‘scientific notation’ or ‘simplify the equation’ meant?”

Inspired by the federal “No Child Left Behind” act, Digital Directions officials have spent the past two years developing a software program that will ensure ELL students have the chance to learn basic math lexicon.

Using CSAP consultants, the company has designed an Internet program that walks ELL students through math topics in the two languages. At every point in the lesson, definitions of terms in Spanish can be activated by the click of the mouse. There is also a section explaining the format of the CSAP test.

The program can be accessed by students via a password through a Web browser.

Officials from the Roaring Fork School District said they were so excited about the Internet program they entered into a unique business partnership with Digital Directions.

“The HELP initiative arose out of a serious and pressing need. The number of non-English speakers grows each year, and our resources are increasingly stretched,” noted Roaring Fork Superintendent Fred Wall. “It remains particularly difficult for us to effectively teach core academic subjects, such as math, to ELL [students].

“There were no existing programs that directly address this problem, so in 2002 we decided to partner with Digital Directions to develop our own program to help our students.”

Digital Directions has received financial support from several local organizations and individuals, including the Aspen Valley Community Foundation, the Aspen School District and Woody Creek philanthropist George Stranahan.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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