SCCMI (Suburban Cook County Mathematics Initiative) was established to improve mathematics teaching and learning in grades six through nine. Thirty-two school districts collaborated in two “sister” mathematics improvement initiatives (South Cook Mathematics Initiative and West Cook Mathematics Initiative) from 2010 through 2016, with support from the University of Illinois at Chicago and in partnership with the West 40 and South Cook Intermediate Service Centers and funding from The Chicago Community Trust. The districts served a high percentage of low-income students, had common needs around mathematics teaching and learning, and shared a commitment to comprehensive mathematics improvement. The collaboration was a result of early discussions designed to surface common areas of need and possible interventions. The initiatives promoted 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 collaboration established between WCMI and SCMI continues now through the work of the Metro Chicago Mathematics Initiative (MCMI).
SCCMI was designed to develop a community of educators in west and south Cook County. The project had three major goals:
- To build the capacity of districts and schools to support mathematics improvement efforts and to address the expectations of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M);
- To support teachers in implementing high-quality mathematics instruction that is aligned with the CCSS-M; and
- To promote cross-school and cross-district collaboration providing opportunities for every school and district to leverage the shared expertise and to avoid duplication of efforts.
Taken together, these goals helped address mathematics improvement at multiple levels of the school systems as well as leverage resources across participating districts.
A small, coherent set of “big ideas” was emphasized across all professional development offered by the initiative, with implementation of the CCSS-M underlying the work. These included:
- Focusing on student thinking and learning, with rich tasks and formative assessment practices
- Building teacher capacity, attending to content knowledge, resources, and practice
- Enabling effective instruction through structures, policies, and supervision
- Promoting collaboration to support reflection, growth, and sustainability
- Developing a school or district infrastructure—including support for principals and instructional leaders
- In 32 participating districts: superintendents and district administrators, teacher leaders and teachers who taught more than 20,000 students in grades 6 to 9. (While only students and teachers in grades 6 to 9 participated in the initiatives, constituent districts enrolled over 66,000 students; approximately 80 percent were from traditionally underrepresented groups.)
- The districts collaborated with university faculty and staff, ISC executive directors and coordinators, CCT program officers, the Logos evaluator and external partners that included nationally known experts.
The project components were designed to improve mathematics teaching and learning and support the transition to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics by:
- Building regional and district mathematics leadership capacity and collaboration—Principals and district leaders participated in core professional development, with a goal of developing a community of administrators who developed the knowledge and tools to support continuous improvement in mathematics and high-quality mathematics instruction. Superintendents from participating districts comprised Advisory Boards for each initiative, setting the project direction and ensuring that the components remained a high priority in their respective districts. Each district designated a district lead, who spearheaded the implementation of WCMI and SCMI programs in their districts and promoted cross-district collaboration. Districts established District Leadership Teams designed to drive mathematics improvement in the district and support the implementation; members of the District Leadership Teams engaged in activities to promote cluster articulation.
- Building teacher leadership and teacher capacity—Ongoing core professional development for classroom teachers created communities of educators in west and south Cook County with the knowledge, skills and experience to improve mathematics instruction in their buildings and classrooms, with additional professional development opportunities targeting support for English language learners and students with disabilities. In-school implementation support by UIC coaches helped teachers improve their practice and provided guidance for teacher leaders and school administrators. Teachers and teacher leaders had opportunities to enhance their credentials and knowledge through a series of UIC courses.
- Supporting high-quality curriculum, instruction and assessment—Teachers implemented a series of high-quality formative assessments—MARS tasks—using a carefully designed process that involved collaboration with other colleagues and promoted changes in instruction. Other instructional tools, such as Math Talks and Problems of the Month, promoted increased critical thinking and reasoning. These assessments and other tools created a common experience across districts and a context for cross-district collaboration and discussion.
Comprehensive, high-quality supports organized around a few big ideas led to significant changes in mathematics in some districts. While there continues to be variability in and across districts, mathematics looks substantially different in these districts than it did before the Initiative.
Some of the results are summarized here:
Building district capacity
Prior to the initiative, 61% of the administrators indicated that they received little or no support focused on mathematics supervision and instructional leadership (Structures Survey Final Report, 150626, page 33). Through the project, nearly all school leaders engaged in professional learning experiences that built their capacity to support mathematics. Nearly all participating districts indicated on a survey conducted by the external evaluator that they are far better prepared to support implementation of the CCSS-M. For instance, one administrator described his experience, stating:
“The administrator PD provided terrific hands on examples of what an engaged math lesson looks like and the necessity for a pedagogical shift” (Year 5 Teacher Leaders and Administrator Survey Report, 073115, page 53).
The professional development enabled administrators to understand the structural changes that were needed. SCCMI led to significant shifts in the ways districts and schools supported high quality mathematics teaching and learning. A majority of the districts established District Mathematics Leadership Teams; collaboration time among mathematics teachers increased in all districts, and that collaboration time was more productive. The amount of mathematics professional development was significantly more than before.
The coaching was almost universally viewed as a crucial component of the Initiative. In later years, some districts assigned internal district coaches who developed their capacity through SCCMI professional development and support. The average number of minutes spent on mathematics instruction increased. Most districts began to use common assessments across classrooms, and most began using CCSS-M aligned instructional materials. More than 80% of teacher leaders agreed that they had developed as school mathematics leaders, improved their abilities to lead collaborative sessions, and had increased their understanding of the CCSS-M and confidence as teacher leaders (Teacher Leader Survey Brief, 153006).
“[There has been] significant change in the quality of time spent in collaboration. The conversations used to be about which lesson from the text to do on which day. Now these conversations focus on what students said during the previous lesson and how that will help them as they look forward in planning. Formative assessment data is discussed and very specific plans in responding to the data are drawn up” (Administrator, Administrator Survey Brief 030213, page 24).
Classroom instruction. Principals and external evaluators reported dramatic changes in the quality of mathematics instructions in participating schools. As one administrator reported, “The math classes look totally different” than before SCCMI (School staff member, Structures Survey Final Report, 160626, page 53).
Among the changes were more student engagement, lessons with higher cognitive demand, better questioning strategies by the teacher, more purposeful talk among students, more focus on student thinking and addressing misconceptions, more focus on mathematical practices, and, generally, a more positive and student-centered learning environment in math classes. More than 80% of administrators have seen greater use of the CCSS-M Standards for Mathematical Practice and more student-to-student dialogue. More than 75% have seen more emphasis on multiple approaches to problem solving (Y5 Teacher Leader and Administrator Survey report 073115, page 67).
districts and schools
Collaboration across districts and schools. Districts began collaborating. Fourteen districts adopted common, middle-grades instructional materials, enabling joint professional development. All districts agreed for two years prior to the PARCC assessment to administer a common assessment consisting of a set of performance tasks, and teachers from all districts participated in professional development to collaboratively score students’ work on this assessment.
“The project has led to networking with administration from several other Cook County districts. The increase of communication regarding mathematics between district and building level administrators in our district has increased. …the communication between administrators from our district and others has greatly been enhanced” (Administrator, Structures Survey Final Report, page 34).
“I’m seeing a transformation in the way that teachers think about math when I observe them… With the students, there’s more communication about math. There’s not one way to approach it. There’s less emphasis on the computation and formulaic end of math. And more about the application and problem-solving, how can you apply things that you’ve learned to new situations… and definitely more students are collaborating and working together too” (District 555 Case Study, page 13).
Teacher pedagogical content knowledge increased as evidenced by results using the Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching Survey, in which 75% of the matched teachers showed gains from the summer of 2011 to January, 2014, with an effect size of .76, which is often considered a medium to large magnitude. Such changes are typically correlated with increases in student achievement.
Numerous teachers enrolled in the university courses either to pursue their middle grade mathematics endorsements or master’s degrees in mathematics education.
By building capacity to improve mathematics at multiple levels as part of a comprehensive initiative, SCCMI was able to help districts make progress in improving their mathematics programs. Furthermore, structures and leadership were developed within districts and schools that increase the likelihood of sustainable progress. Finally, SCCMI created a broad community of high needs districts in suburban Cook County that were thinking together about mathematics improvement efforts. Partnerships that include a university, regional service centers and districts offer a scalable and improved model for promoting better mathematics teaching and learning in other regions.
“All my life I loved math, but not until SCCMI was I pushed into helping children conceptualize deeper, and not rely on the algorithm that I was taught and teach it just like that. It’s clearly changed my teaching. Before, I didn’t look at student misconceptions as much as I do now, or even try to plan for student misconceptions… I’m just really looking at how they are as learners, and where they can take themselves, vs. what information I can shove down their throats” (Logos Consulting Group, Case Study Report, 2015).