Dozens of teachers from across Cook County packed into a room at Thornton Township High School in Harvey. It was hot. It was early. It was summer break. But they clustered around hand-drawn posters hanging from the walls as if they were the most important things in the world.
The teachers were there with one mission in mind: To learn how to help their students succeed in math under the new, rigorous Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. At this workshop, they were learning how to encourage students to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them – key elements of the new standards.
These teachers were ahead of the curve. By participating in the LSRI-based Suburban Cook County Mathematics Initiative, they have access to high-quality professional development that few of their peers in the state – and, perhaps, in the country – have.
Many professional development programs barely scratch the surface, or repeat ideas teachers have already tried, said Katie Stadt, an Advanced Placement calculus teacher with District 227. But with SCCMI, she said, the training is “wonderful.”
“They address the needs of teachers, offer knowledgeable experts and access to fresh resources and suggest strategies that work in the classroom,” she said.
SCCMI is a partnership among 32 high-needs school districts in west and south Cook County, LSRI, and the West and South Cook Intermediate Service Centers. It seeks to promote a comprehensive strategy for improving mathematics teaching and learning. SCCMI takes a systemic approach in building district, school, and teacher capacity, with collaboration among educators at its core. It also emphasizes and supports high-quality instruction, curriculum, and assessment, helping educators focus on student thinking to improve teaching and learning. The project has been funded by nearly $4 million in grants from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. Participating districts also have provided funding.
The focus on leadership is one aspect that makes SCCMI stand out. “Teaching is a critical lever, but unless the administration is informed, engaged, and supportive of the work happening in classrooms, improvement is hard to sustain,” said Project Director Mary Jo Tavormina.
The years of hard work are paying off with results. Participants are changing their approaches in the classroom, reporting higher rates of satisfaction, and are seeing their students become better problem solvers and more engaged in their mathematics classrooms.
Like the other 31 districts in SCCMI have, Stadt’s district has committed to the program since it began in the 2010-2011 school year. Stadt is a teacher-leader, who helps provide professional development for her peers in the strategies SCCMI offers.
“The best part of it,” she added, “is the opportunity to build relationships with SCCMI. They are always there when I need them.”
Those words are music to Tavormina’s ears: Every SCCMI success offers hope to the students and teachers who are involved.
WCMI and SCMI are partnerships among 32 high-needs school districts in west and south Cook County to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics in grades 6 through 9. Districts work in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago Learning Sciences Research Institute and the West and South Cook Intermediate Service Centers (ISCs), with funding provided by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust and direction provided by the Trust’s program officers.
The initiatives promote a comprehensive strategy for improving mathematics teaching and learning, with an emphasis on strong, instructional leadership that supports high-quality instruction leading to improved student achievement.
The project components are designed to improve mathematics teaching and learning and support the transition to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics by:
Responses through numerous data strands, including surveys and focus groups, indicate extremely high satisfaction of participants in terms of the quality of the professional development they have received. Many respondents indicate that they now regularly discuss and collaborate with their colleagues about mathematics teaching and learning, which is a significant increase in collaboration related to mathematics since their participation in the project.
There is increased collaboration across districts to support mathematics improvement, including a decision to implement a common cross-district performance assessment in April 2013.
Collaboration opportunities increased at district and school levels as teachers jointly scored and analyzed student work and planned lessons to address student misconceptions.
The ongoing use of high-quality formative assessments and the use of related re-engagement strategies to meet the needs of all students have been implemented by approximately 480 teacher leaders and teachers.
Classroom observations by outside evaluators of lessons involving MARS tasks documented a trend toward teachers changing their instructional practice and increasing student engagement in classrooms, with more students engaged in practices required by the CCSSM.
Seventy-five teachers enrolled in the university courses during the first two years either to pursue their middle grade mathematics endorsements or master’s degrees in mathematics education.
The project leveraged additional support from two districts in 2011-2012 to expand the initiative into grades K-5; additional districts are interested in providing funding to support K-5 activities during the 2012-2013 school year.
Districts are sharing information about the initiative with their school boards, and teachers are sharing instructional strategies and MARS tasks with teachers from grade levels who are not participating in WCMI or SCMI.
Project participants are becoming part of the broader mathematics education community and are sharing their knowledge and experiences outside of the project at conferences, such as the April 2012 National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics Annual Conference, where four teacher leaders made joint presentations with project staff.