Leadership Public Schools (LPS) is a standalone charter school network of three high schools in Oakland, Richmond, and Hayward California that serves approximately 1,600 students.
Since its inception, LPS has been known for providing educational equity opportunities. Specifically in the past four years, this has manifested in having a strong vision of equity around curriculum and instruction. When the state of California switched to the Common Core in 2012, the shifts in the Common Core required teaching strategies that challenged the traditional teaching model in mathematics. At this time, LPS switched to one of the few curricula that was available at the time that was aligned to the Common Core standards, but experienced challenges during its adoption, as teachers attempted to understand the curriculum and standards, and learn to use it with students in a way that aligned to LPS’s vision for equity and rigor.
Meeting the needs of their teaching force of early career professionals presented another layer to the challenge. In general, the recruitment and retention of champion teachers has generally required schools to develop the practice of onboarding and supporting teachers who are new to the profession. LPS math teachers, in particular, were still developing a depth of knowledge with the Common Core standards and content practices to ensure rigor and access for all students. The previous LPS curriculum did not help teachers learn, adopt, and sustain the instructional routines needed to engage students in deeper thinking over time. LPS leaders identified that teachers were only using the high-level scope and sequence, practice sets, and assessments from their curriculum, indicating that teachers did not trust that the core curriculum would help them address student needs.
Alexandrea Kahn, LPS’s Chief Academic Officer stated, “In supporting our teachers and students, we realized that the existing curriculum we had was not meeting their needs and supporting us in helping our students have access to rigorous and relevant learning opportunities. The search for a new curriculum in 2017 surfaced primarily out of our commitment to ensuring our students had access to a high-quality curriculum that also met the needs of our existing teaching force.”
The Adoption of Illustrative Mathematics
LPS engaged in a thorough vetting process using their curriculum framework to select Illustrative Mathematics. That process included reviewing each of the three state-adopted curriculum options, as well as meeting with local leaders to learn about other curricular choices and success with students. LPS had already been using IM for Grades 6–8, recognized it as a high-quality curriculum, and in the end selected IM for its high school courses for the following reasons:
- The curriculum was aligned to the shifts of the Common Core Standards of Focus, Coherence, and Rigor.
- The Instructional routines were embedded within the curriculum and lessons.
- The Teacher moves were clearly described, which was a help for newer teachers.
- The lesson guides clearly described how to prepare for each lesson.
- The lessons clearly communicated entry points and supports for English-language learners and students with disabilities.
LPS piloted the IM Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 courses in the 2018–2019 school year. All pilot teachers participated in the IM Certified Teach and Learn two-day event during the summer before the school year began and unit overviews, both virtually and in-person, throughout the year. LPS quickly identified multiple benefits to using the IM curriculum for supporting newer teachers and engaging students in deeper learning. Rosamaria Zapata, the Mathematics Program Coordinator for LPS stated, “Teacher buy-in was easier than anticipated because [the curriculum] was aligned with teachers’ beliefs and values about mathematics learning. We could hand them the curriculum and they had nearly everything they needed to instruct students.” Chip Weber, a teacher in his third year teaching Algebra 2 at LPS Oakland, affirmed that “Before using IM, we were using another curriculum that was aligned to the Common Core Standards, but many teachers were moving away from using it in their classrooms. I was familiar with the Principles to Actions from NCTM and a problem-based approach to building conceptual understanding, but I still had to figure out how to incorporate problem-based learning on my own. I never had an encyclopedia on problem-based learning, so it wasn’t easy to do every day. What has been nice about the IM curriculum is that it does commit to problem-based activities every day, so that has made it much easier. I appreciate having a wide range of problems in each lesson to work from, which I didn’t have before IM.”
Zapata also expressed that LPS teachers were delighted in the way the curriculum increased student access to the mathematics without sacrificing rigor, sharing, “It has the ability to meet high school students where they are without decreasing the rigor.” Evan Weiner, who teaches Algebra 1 and 2 at Richmond High School, found that the IM Curriculum increased students access to rigorous content in multiple ways:
- The scope and sequence ensures students are operating at grade level throughout the year: “Before IM I was trying to figure things out as I went. I started by reading the standards and how those standards were assessed through our district’s common assessments, but as a first or second year teacher, I was trying to interpret the standards to create a year-long scope and sequence and balance that against making sure what I was teaching worked for students. The result was that it wasn’t at grade level. We spent time on things that were neither necessary or grade-level appropriate.”
- The instructional routines invite students to the mathematics: “The basic instructional routines do a lot of work of increasing access. I think of a launch that I may have written in the past may not have matched student’s knowledge of the concepts. IM would approach that same learning objective with a Which One Doesn’t Belong?, which increases the rigor because the amount of things students can know or discuss is much richer than just the lower recall level. Routines like Which One Doesn’t Belong?, Notice and Wonder, card sorts, and math talks all offer a low-floor-high-ceiling approach. So many lessons start in context and then move to the abstract, which is different from how I learned and taught math, which started with abstract and then got to context. Students can reason about the context problems so that later when they see abstract versions of equations, it builds on what students know about that. Starting units in context and then abstracting that context helps increase access.”
- The framework facilitates student access: “There is an invitation to the math, a deep study, and a lesson synthesis. The curriculum gives appropriate weight to the invitation part of each lesson, and also invites students from Unit 1 through the entire course or sequence in HS math. Access seems to be a foundational design principle for the whole curriculum.”
LPS scaled the IM curriculum to all Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 classrooms, and began using the Algebra 1 supports materials, in the 2019–2020 school year. Teachers completed the IM Certified Teach and Learn professional learning session, and those who were newer to the district were onboarded internally.
Challenges in Early Phase Implementation: Making Culturally Relevant Adaptations to Drive Student Discourse and Address Unfinished Learning
LPS experienced many successes during its pilot year, but also learned many lessons they used to make culturally relevant adaptations during its first full year implementing the curriculum.
Improving Student Discourse
“Student discourse was not yet at the level it should be. Our teachers were struggling with facilitating student discourse and we know this is something we need to improve upon.” — Zapata
First, teachers identified that some assessment results did not show a significant impact after its first year on key mathematical concepts. Teachers attributed these gaps to areas where they knew they could improve their teaching practice, particularly around better lesson syntheses of math concepts at the end of each lesson, and better focus on student discussions. Zapata noted that “student discourse was not yet at the level it should be. Our teachers were struggling with facilitating student discourse and we know this is something we need to improve upon.”
To address this challenge, Zapata led teachers to identify the classroom conditions needed to support students in discourse skills as well, because students were not used to being asked open-ended questions where they are asked to wrestle with ideas. Because students were used to correct or incorrect answers, the question became ,“How do we begin to develop teacher knowledge and skills to do this and what do students need?” After spending the first year of using the IM Curriculum to help teachers first learn how to internalize the standards and the big ideas of each curricular unit, the second year of implementation in LPS has focused on improving practices related to embedding strategies for student discussion and building a classroom culture where such responses are expected for all students.
Teachers drew upon the resources embedded in the IM Curriculum to help them increase student discourse. Weber described ways he had incorporated the Math Language Routines (MLRs) from many of the unit lessons to help students with diverse language backgrounds. He shared, “I use the Three Reads MLR and I have tried to use Stronger and Clearer each time, which is nice because it gets kids up and moving, which is a plus for our high school students, to get them walking around and talking with their peers.”
Addressing Unfinished Learning
The IM Algebra 1 Support Materials enable LPS to align its supplemental instruction to key concepts students are learning in their core Algebra 1 course, and provide an entry point to prepare students for a successful learning experience.
Another challenge that teachers faced was related to students who entered Algebra 1 with unfinished learning from prior grades. LPS has established a multi-pronged approach to supporting unfinished learning, but two key actions have been taken to ensure all students have access to the learning each day – the targeted use of the Lesson Launches during each lesson during daily instruction, and the use of the IM Algebra 1 supports in LPS’s Navigate Math course.
Teachers found that the lesson structure of the IM Curriculum ensures all students have —access to the learning in each lesson, regardless of gaps in learning from previous grades. Weber noted that “one of my favorite parts of the curriculum is the lesson launches. They are good for students with unfinished learning. I usually feel like they create low-entry, high-ceiling opportunities, which is the name of the game when it comes to engaging a diverse community of learners. As a high school teacher, students come to our class and they don’t know some things we assume they should, and if we act like they “should” know things, they shut down. We must make sure every student has an entry point. [The lesson design] gives access to entry.”
Because LPS saw a high number of students with gaps in essential skills, they opted to continue to provide supplemental assistance through its legacy Navigate Math course, which is a course that Algebra 1 students complete in addition to their core math course where they receive additional support. LPS selected the IM Algebra 1 support materials, which were published prior to the 2019–2020 school year, as its key supplemental resource for its Navigate Math course, as well as continued use of an online computer adaptive tool for reinforcement and extra practice. These IM Algebra 1 support materials enabled LPS to align its supplemental instruction to key concepts students are learning in their core Algebra 1 course, and provide an entry point to prepare students for a successful learning experience.
Successes and Quick Wins
LPS has expressed that while they are still learning and growing in their implementation of the IM curriculum, they have seen multiple successes that they are confident will sustain them over the next few years. Zapata reported the following quick wins with teachers at LPS after their first year and a half of implementation:
- “We have teacher buy-in. They all believe in IM.”
- “I notice most that our returning teachers think that IM is a high-quality curriculum and they can see how in time this is going to be really good for kids.”
- “[Teachers] believe the problem sets are very strong and know it would take them a long time to create them on their own.”
Zapata also reported that teachers could easily detect the coherence of the curriculum in the pacing guide. She suggested that “teachers can see that they are consistently touching on the same ideas throughout the unit.” Weber affirmed that “IM gives us a guiding path about what we want math instruction to look like [for students] in this age.”
The most significant impact that LPS has observed in their district is the shift to increased student responsibility in the learning process. Teachers have demonstrated that through the embedded instructional routines, such as Notice and Wonder and What Doesn’t Belong?, they have been more consistent in their ability to shift who is doing the learning in the classroom. To this, Weiner added that for him one of the greatest successes is that “Students are showing mastery on grade-level standards, as measured by IM mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments. Kids can solve the more challenging standards. They show they are able to do this.”