If math wasn’t your strong suit back in the day, you can rest assured that there are many who still feel your pain. Yet mathematical scores for two Portland school districts—David Douglas and Centennial—now appear to sting a little less.
How could math possibly get any easier, you may ask. Let’s talk the EaMML.
Thanks to a little help from the statehouse, a coalition of local mathematicians and educators dreamt up the East Metro Mathematics Leadership Project (EaMML). It’s based on a $1 million, 3-year grant from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), which was enacted in 2014 to oversee a project with the intention to better prepare east Portland math students—and teachers.
The project, as well as the fate of east county math students, became heralded by two women: Amy McQueen, a David Douglas School District math specialist, and Nicole Rigelman, a Portland State University professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
“I reached out to some of the teachers who had been taking courses at Portland State, but it was actually a David Douglas teacher who got it into the hands of Amy, and she gave me a call,” says Rigelman. “The rest is history.”
Their partnership is a stroke of fate, though the grant itself was specific in its aims.
“In 2013–2014, David Douglas School District received an Alder Grant from the Oregon Department of Education to begin work on developing a pre-k–12 Mathematics Leadership Team with the goal of increasing student growth in mathematics through increased teacher understanding of successful implementation of the Common Core Mathematics Content and Practice Standards,” explains McQueen, who facilitated the original Mathematics Leadership Team for the David Douglas School District, as well as managing the Alder Grant. “This grant gave us a great start, but both leadership and participants recognized that additional time and professional learning were needed.”
In both the David Douglas and Centennial districts, mathematics assessment results had underscored a lack of proficiency in pre-k–12 students. Teachers, too, needed help in professional learning in instruction and assessment strategies aligned to the Common Core State Standards in Math Content and Practice Standards.
In an effort to hit two birds with one stone, McQueen and Rigelman hoped to improve math scores in all subsets of pre-k–12 students, as well as teacher assessments for instruction. Their method involved assessing teachers and students before, during and at the end of the EaMML project through Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) for students and through a tool called Learning Math for Teaching for faculty.
Overall, the results were unanimous; things look good. EaMML teacher’s students were, on average, receiving scores that were 34 points higher than those of their peers. Teachers also saw significant increases.
“The easiest baseline we could use is that teachers who were part of our project were twice as likely to have students meet standards than students whose teachers were not,” explains Rigelman. “A lot of these [similar] grants—even after five years—don’t show statistically significant differences.”
It wasn’t just a series of exams that prepped kids and teachers for success. The EaMML exhibited a hands-on protocol.
“We’re shifting the way the classroom looks, so the student is taking more control over their own problem-solving,” says Rigelman. “They’re coming up with their own ways of thinking and arguing with classmates over who has the correct answer—and why they think it’s correct.”
The teachers received similar treatment. “There were a lot of different parts for faculty: teachers participated in lesson studies and opportunities to get into a different teacher’s classroom to study student learning as it emerges while imagining how to make that lesson better,” says Rigelman. “We had groups of ten to 15 teachers going into classrooms and engaging with that structured professional development. Then we had reflection and next steps, as well as some common books that we read and engaged with.”
Ultimately, success was measured through a project participant (teachers, instructional coaches and administrators) lens and a student lens, according to McQueen.
After the three years of the EaMML, 88 percent of participants felt more prepared to address Common Core Mathematics Content and Practice Standards, and 86 percent of participants felt more able to meet students’ learning needs in mathematics. There were statistically significant increases in teachers’ use of research-based practices to develop deeper student understanding, reasoning and sense-making of mathematics.
For the students, EaMML taught those who did not meet state standards for the SBAC in 2015 were nearly two times more likely to meet the standards in subsequent years when compared to non-EaMML students.
Another important indicator of EaMML’s success: It didn’t discriminate.
“One of our project goals was to increase student achievement in mathematics across all grade levels and student subgroups,” says McQueen. “As included in the student outcomes above, we saw a statistically significant difference in student achievement as measured by the Smarter Balanced Assessment for students whose teachers participated in our project. This effect was consistent across all student subgroups including gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.”
The only group that saw some success—though not statistically significant success—were special education students.
“The East Metro Mathematics Leadership Project has provided a model for teachers’ professional learning with a proven impact on student achievement and growth across all student demographics,” says Ken Richardson, superintendent of David Douglas School District; “This supports the David Douglas School District’s focus on equity.”
Indeed, the EaMML may be over, but its long-term impacts are only just beginning. Now there are students better-equipped for learning, teachers more attuned to teaching and systems in place that should provide seeds for success for new generations in the years to come.