Ongoing Support for Secondary Math in Washington County School District

Posted on March 03, 2012

District professional development responds to secondary common core math needs

In a recent interview, Kristine A. Cunningham, Math Coordinator for Washington County School District (WCSD), gave insight to the ongoing effort to support secondary math teachers as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics are implemented (her words are enclosed in quotes in this article). The district has created a professional development model that looks at the current level of student performance and provides direct support to teachers to broaden their knowledge and enhance teaching skills. Although not a curriculum, the expectations of the CCSS, with more problem-solving in a real world context, are addressed in the training. It follows the recommendations of current research showing a correlation to the number of hours teachers receive in training to a boost in student achievement (Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, Shapley, 2007).

The district’s project started in 2009-2010 and continued last year in response to the need for a collaborative approach with special education and general education teachers.  Less than half of WCSD students with disabilities scored below the proficient mark on the statewide assessment results and more than an acceptable amount of general education high school student were not making proficiency in Algebra and Geometry. Monthly study groups were created for high school math teachers (special education, algebra, geometry) to improve their instructional practices. As a result of this effort, the number of students scoring proficient on the Secondary Math CRT has increased.

This school year (2011-2012) brought new focus as the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics was implemented in to grades 6, 8 and 9. Core Academies were held in the summer, but the ongoing support from district personnel helps answer the many questions that arise during this phase of implementation. Special education teachers are part of this training. Photos are from a recent training session where Wayne Watson, a Washington County Senior Volunteer and Consultant/Specialist for Johns Hopkins University gave instruction to the teachers.

Question : How does special education fit into this district project?

“With the implementation of the Common Core, we realized we had to do something to meet the needs of the special education students. So, with a committee of some math teachers, and some input from special education teachers, we came up with a matrix that looked at the performance of special education students, so that the kids that actually manifested they needed the extra help were getting it. It just wasn’t because they were lazy or not doing their homework. Those students are in a general education math class and then they have a math support class. It helps scaffold what they are learning. Every school does it a little bit differently because it depends on the level of math, but what generally happens is that a special education teacher comes into the classroom with the general education math teacher. Some of them are comfortable co-teaching and some of them aren’t, but they at least see what the kids are learning. In a lot of cases, they are learning and getting the information and then when the students have a support class, the special education teachers know what their homework is and they know how the teacher taught it. This is mostly happening in the middle schools with the 8th and 9th grades.

With the high stakes testing, it’s not feasible to require the special education teachers to go back and get all their qualifications in all subjects. Who would want to teach special education if we required all of that?  In reality, that’s not going to happen. We have to find a way for them to feel successful. The highly qualified teacher teaches the content and special education teacher helps support it. Their gifts, strengths and their special education training come in to help us.”

How does the Support Class work?

“Students can get help with their homework, or get help clarifying concepts because the teacher has seen the lesson. Maybe (the teacher will) reteach what the student didn’t get and they can address what the IEP says, so if a student needs help with multiplication facts, then that’s part of the support class. It’s not just a study hall. It needs structure. I’ve told the support teachers that a good rule of thumb is to change the activities every 20 minutes because brain research indicates that we need to ‘chunk and chew’ in order to learn. Students best remember the beginning and the end of a lesson, so you need to create a lot of beginnings and ends so they will retain the information. The challenge for math teachers is to limit the amount of lecture and instead create those beginnings and ends. So, if they ‘chunk and chew,’ they spend 20 minutes on re-teaching something the students were unsure of, 20 minutes practicing it and then 20 minutes of homework or maybe 20 minutes on something else they didn’t get – like multiplication facts. It’s a lot easier management-wise and students retain more of what we want them to learn. Teachers must provide lots of structure. Although there are still a few kinks, we’re on the right track.”

How do the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) help facilitate this effort?

“A special education teacher is identified to be the 8th grade math person and will adjust the schedule to go into the general education class. Because of curriculum mapping in our building PLCs, all the math teachers are at the same place (in the curriculum). They all have their own teaching styles, but all of the information is the same. And, so the special education teacher only sees one 8th grade math class, but is able to help all the 8th grade students. They do it for 9th grade, too. An accommodations we have made at our school, Dixie Middle School, is when the special education teacher works with the general education teachers to implement the goals and expectations of the IEP. They have a better idea of what the IEP says – perhaps the student doesn’t have to do the full assignment or something else. When the special education teacher signs on the top (of the assignment), we know this is acceptable for a full assignment because of our collaboration in PLCs. Or, we’ll give them regular credit for the assignment. There are a lot of conversations to see that the students’ needs are met. These decisions are made in the PLC.”

Systemic and ongoing professional development is the key to improved student achievement. Last year’s district CRT math results showed an increase in the number of secondary students who reached the proficient mark – a noble goal of any targeted professional development plan. Collaboration, training and looking at the data provides the momentum for continual growth in teacher skills and helps facilitate better student achievement.  For this purpose, Washington County School District is addressing the needs of students and teachers by providing targeted ongoing support in the area of secondary mathematics.

Author: Peggy Childs, Program Specialist, UPDC (Utah Personnel Development Center)