Oakland Unity: From 20th percentile to 99th percentile using Khan Academy

In his book The Math Character Gap, Peter McIntosh shares his experience with how Khan Academy helped change his school’s math scores from the bottom 20th percentile on the California Standards Test to 11th in the state. 

Read it for free!


The Character Gap: Why reduced student responsibility causes the math gap. How Khan Academy can help fix it!

Book description:

When we made rebuilding student character (defined as responsibility, effort & confidence) our primary focus we achieved amazing results. Our average score on the California Standards Test (CST) for 9th grade algebra increased from 327 to 399, raising our state placement from the 20th percentile to the 99th percentile in just three years. We are now ranked 11th out of 1,377 high schools.

This is the story of how Oakland Unity High School, a small charter high school in the tough neighborhoods of Oakland, California, changed its math program and began the process of reversing the math gap. I am the algebra teacher at Oakland Unity High School. This book describes how diminished student character was the cause of that math gap and the specific steps we took to close it. An important part of our strategy was the use of Khan Academy. We describe the specific ways we use Khan and explain some of the reasons why Khan has been so effective. We also describe the specific policies we used to:

* increase student responsibility, 
* improve effort on homework and classwork, 
* address the total lack of student confidence on word problems. 

Students today are not struggling in math because of poor content delivery. They struggle despite the best efforts of many good teachers because many of them are increasingly resistant to absorbing any content. They are stuck in a vicious cycle because they lack three character elements: responsibility, effort and confidence. I am not suggesting a diminution of the teacher’s role; I am suggesting a shift to emphasize leadership and inspiration over explanation. Any teacher that has survived in some of our tougher classrooms has the necessary leadership skills, and I believe that online learning makes this shift more effective.

These are good kids, who used to be enthusiastic learners, who have gotten off track for a variety of reasons. Many of the factors that caused them to lose their way may not have been their fault, but it is their responsibility to rebuild their own character. It is our responsibility as teachers to create the environment for that rebuilding effort. This is the blueprint for creating that environment.

The book is manageable to read at 21,000 words, but filled with useable, real-world solutions that brought our urban math classroom from the bottom of California high schools to the very top.

Spring into action: Testing season


Gear up for end of the year! We recently spoke with a handful of teachers about using Khan Academy to prepare for their upcoming standardized test (the California Standards Test - CST) that their students will be taking in the coming weeks.  They are looking to use KA to strengthen procedural fluency for students.  

The CST may be a state-based test, but every teacher faces the task of preparing their students for tests.  Khan Academy addresses the different needs of each student by filling individual learning gaps and encouraging mastery-based learning.   While test prep is a very specific purpose, it too can be personalized, mastery-based and interactive.  

We wanted to share the materials  from our recent discussion to spread the ideas and examples that teachers have put together.  Perhaps this sparks ideas on other ways to use KA with your students. 

Click here to check out the ideas on using KA to help with test prep.