With 23,000 students spread among 32 schools, Washington Elementary School District (WESD) is the largest elementary school district in Arizona. The district encompasses parts of Phoenix and Glendale and has a widely diverse student population. That diversity, along with most schools’ Title I status, can make effective teaching and learning a challenge.
But the district is able to create a family atmosphere that permeates each of its campuses and helps students to feel welcome and supported. In reviewing their performance, math was recognized as an area of improvement for the team at WESD, so they undertook to make changes. That’s no surprise since only about two out of five eighth graders pass the AzMERIT exam. The Arizona Education Progress Meter is aiming to improve that to 69 percent by the year 2030.
By partnering with an outside consultant and taking a deep dive into the data, the district identified aspects of teaching that would need attention and developed a plan to tackle these. Inquiry-based practices were especially noted, which are a substantial portion of the current state math standards. Inquiry-based mathematics instruction differs from the more traditional approach, and the district knew it would take a significant training effort to build teacher capacity.
The district designed a training module aimed at teaching one educator from each grade level. Over the course of seven half-day sessions, educators were armed with more effective ways to teach problem solving and inquiry math. To ensure that the training took hold in classrooms, school principals and curriculum leaders were also part of the training. School-based coaches also took part in monthly seminars to help them be more effective with their teacher coaching.
But the training wasn’t enough – teachers would need concrete tools in order to put their plan into action. WESD worked to make curriculum adjustments and seek out resources that would more closely align with state math standards. A team of teacher leaders worked with the math consultant to adjust and align the curriculum.
This new curriculum/training approach met the unique needs of the district and will continue to be able to provide training and improvements every year. In previous years, math scores had been flat, despite WESD’s efforts. At the end of the training year, WESD had worked with more than 200 teachers, who embraced the new way of teaching and worked hard to implement what they had learned. And it’s paying off already… the district has seen gains in their benchmark assessments and some growth in AzMERIT passing rates.
Moving into the second year of the initiative, WESD will train even more educators and prepare them to share key improvements with their school teams. They know that students who are confident in their math skills will be more prepared for future school years and will even improve their chances of graduating from high school.
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