December 10, 2018
To meet current math standards like the Louisiana Student Standards for Mathematics or the Common Core State Standards, it is no longer enough for students to simply memorize how to do something. They must demonstrate a deeper understanding and be able to explain the “why” behind the “how.”
In Caddo Parish (LA) Public Schools (CPPS), our schools are very diverse, and nearly 70 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged. As in many other districts, our efforts to improve student achievement were hindered by curriculum materials that were not tightly aligned with the new standards and often lacked the tasks, norms, and routines needed to create problem-solving classrooms.
While it may not seem like a big stretch to move to a problem-based curriculum since problems are a fundamental part of math instruction, many teachers (including me) were not taught in the way that the standards now require us to teach. We can no longer show students how to solve two or three sample problems and then ask them to solve 10 to 20 problems on their own. To help them become college and career ready, we need to get them thinking about math concepts in a deeper way and actively engage them in meaningful discussions and problem solving.
Here are a few strategies we have implemented to help teachers make this shift, as well as a few lessons learned along the way.
Collect teacher feedback to ensure buy-in and improve fidelity.
After the new standards were adopted, we purchased a new standards-aligned math curriculum. It was not implemented with fidelity, however, because teachers found it difficult to use. A year later, we tried another curriculum that was more flexible and easier to use, but it was not tightly aligned to our standards so our test scores remained flat.
After reviewing instructional materials rated as Tier 1 standards-aligned resources by the Louisiana Department of Education, we decided to try Open Up Resources 6–8 Math, an open educational resource (OER) authored by Illustrative Mathematics (IM). Choosing an OER turned out to be a great way to garner teacher buy-in, which is essential to the success of any instructional program.
To prepare for a potential adoption in our middle schools in 2018–19, we provided teachers with detailed information about the curriculum, including reviews by independent organizations such as EdReports.org. In fall 2017, we formed teacher committees and solicited feedback. Over winter break, I added links from lessons in the new curriculum to our district’s scope and sequence documents. At a CPPS professional development day in February 2018, I showed teachers a lesson and we walked through an activity. I also asked our teachers to try at least one lesson in their classrooms during the upcoming spring semester and provide feedback on a Google Form. These teacher testimonies provided a lot of momentum when we made the decision to adopt the curriculum district-wide.