Tom Stricklin, Salem, OR firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2016, the Algebra 2 team at North Salem High School ended the school year with disappointing results. When the dust settled, F rates were high, A and B rates were low, and the percentage of North Salem students proficient in the Smarter Balance Assessment in Mathematics had dropped to 21%. On top of this, instruction had drifted away from a concerted effort to use the CPM curriculum and the teachers had reduced the amount of content they were covering. The team needed some direction, encouragement, and a renewed sense that their students could step up to the challenge of a rigorous course.
Behind the direction of Principal Cynthia Richardson and Assistant Principal Michael Contreras, steps were taken to support the team the next school year and challenge them to strive for more math for more kids. The leadership fully believed that with the right instructional practice, more students would pass and achievement on the state assessment would increase. They spoke to Susie Boehlke, one of the strongest CPM teachers in the building, gave her three sections of Algebra 2, and asked her to lead the team.
Having just stepped into my new role as the district high school math coach, I was eager to work with the North Salem mathematics team. Michael approached me and told me that he and Cynthia wanted me to focus all my energy at North on coaching the Algebra 2 PLC. They asked me to support the team in its use of the CPM curriculum and in analyzing and planning interventions based on common formative assessment results.
So we went to work. Susie and I meet regularly to discuss what should be on each common unit assessment and what conversations should the Algebra 2 team have to support student learning. The team was open and willing to re-engage with CPM and do their best to give the same assessments and analyze the results together. They had great input on what should be on the common assessments and what approaches our students needed. We met as a team about three times a month on Monday afternoons and had many spirited conversations about how to help the students who seemed to not be getting it. Over the course of the year I spent a ton of time in classrooms with teachers, debriefing lessons, and talking about how we could support student study teams and ask better questions to get students thinking. With many English learners and students of poverty in our classes, we regularly discussed scaffolds, posters, graphic organizers, and other tools that would help students make sense of the mathematics. In addition to our work, Michael would regularly get into classrooms and provide the teachers additional feedback and data on how they were doing in implementing the lessons our students needed to be college and career ready. In our team meetings we would discuss this data and reflect on the types of lesson we were planning.
After each test we looked at the evidence of student learning. As a team or as individuals, we discussed what kids could do and what they struggled to do. We designed specific problems or activities for these students in response to the assessment results. After each six week progress period we looked at the percentage of As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs our team was giving. We discussed if we were hitting our goals and spent a lot to time unpacking the reasons that students were failing. We gave students multiple attempts to pass common unit assessments and provided re-teaching in between opportunities. When we saw trends or reasons that affected many students, we addressed them with interventions or purposeful activities. It did not feel like we were doing anything revolutionary; we were just sticking with it. It was a grind and we worked hard each day as a team to help each of our students make sense of the math.
When we reached the end of June, and our work was complete, we were thrilled with our results. We made significant improvements with how the CPM curriculum was implemented, covered more than eight chapters (the previous year the team had only covered six), and dramatically increased the rigor of the teams’ common assessments. You would think students grades would decrease, but they did not. We improved the percentages of As and Bs from 17% (2016) to 30%. Our F percentage decreased from 37% (2016) to 17%. And when our results on the SBAC Mathematics test were released by the state, we found that 31% of our Algebra 2 students were proficient, up from 19% in 2016. Overall the schools results improved from 21% proficient to 27% proficient.
The whole process just reminds me of the impact a team of teachers can have when they work with a coach who has the time to focus, facilitate ongoing reflection, and keep the work on track. It encourages me as a coach to continue to work with teams of teachers and convince them that together they too can have an incredible impact on theirs students achievement. I am so grateful for Susie, Rosette, Jacey, Corey, and Marty. For the hard work they put in all year for their students and for the joy it was to work with them each and every day.