For the past four years, Lay has been training local middle school teachers how to use Prelude to Algebra in their classes. A three-year Mathematics Science Partnership grant from the Tennessee Department of Education enabled Lay to conduct training institutes each summer and monitor the progress of students who studied with the Prelude — trained teachers.
Assisting Lay in the summer institutes was Joy Runyan, a professional development consultant in mathematics from Edvantia, Inc., a regional educational research organization headquartered in West Virginia.
A total of 227 students representing seven teachers in four school districts were monitored for a year after using Prelude in the seventh grade. The percent of Prelude students who were not proficient on the eighth-grade Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test was less than one-sixth the district average (1.9 percent vs. 12.7 percent). The percent of Prelude students who tested at the advanced level was more than twice the district average (71.3 percent vs. 35.0 percent).
The results of a parallel study of eigth-grade Prelude students were also encouraging. When these students were tested at the end of 9th grade Algebra I, the percent of Prelude students who were not proficient in Algebra I was less than one-half the district average (2.3 percent vs. 5.5 percent).
The percent of Prelude students who tested at the advanced level was nearly 10 points higher than the district average (75.7 percent vs. 66.3 percent).
Middle school students were also given a local test that measured their ability on key pre-algebra topics: solving equations and proportions, working with exponents, and recognizing equivalent forms. In each of these categories, the Prelude-trained students scored from 8 percent to 17 percent higher than comparable students who had not studied the Prelude materials.
Mathematics coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Education Dr. Scott Eddins stated, “The Prelude instructional approach is helping our middle school teachers define and present mathematics in a way that connects with students and helps them to make sense of abstract concepts. In my opinion, Dr. Lay is a champion for quality mathematics instruction allowing his research to be used by teachers statewide.”
Teacher reaction to the Prelude approach has been very enthusiastic. Leslie Humberd from Lake Forest Middle School in Bradley County said, “This way of teaching pre-algebra concepts is the most logical and reasonable way I have ever seen.”
Sandy Fred from Lenoir City Elementary commented, “I wish I had learned math this way a long time ago.”
Heidi Ford from Englewood School in McMinn County concluded, “When I started teaching the Prelude material to my seventh and eighth-grade students, they seemed very eager to learn. The lower level students as well as the higher level students loved it. I had positive feedback from parents telling me their children, who hated math in the past, were starting to love math. The success of this program has put the joy back into my teaching day.”
The approach used in Prelude to Algebra was developed by Lay and his father, the late Dr. Clark Lay, professor emeritus of Mathematics Education at California State University (Fullerton). It is based on years of research into the kinds of mistakes that students commonly make in algebra and how these mistakes can be avoided by teaching the students to think correctly about arithmetic.
Its original use as a remedial program for college students was so successful that the younger Lay rewrote the materials in 2005 at a level appropriate for middle school students. Since then, additional books have been added, and the Prelude series now extends from the eighth grade down to the fourth grade.