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CSULB Gets $1 Million Grant to Work with Local Algebra Teachers

Published: November 15, 2010

The California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) has awarded CSULB a four-year, $996,284 grant for a project that will have university professors working with algebra teachers from five Long Beach high schools in an effort to increase student achievement in mathematics, particularly those from underperforming groups.

“Project EQALS: Evidenced-based, Quality Professional Development in Algebra for Learners’ Success” is a partnership between the College of Education and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at CSULB and the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD).

Co-principal investigators (PIs) Babette Benken, associate professor of mathematics and statistics; and Cara Richards-Tutor, associate professor of advanced studies in education and counseling, are directing the project. Participating LBUSD high schools include Cabrillo, Jordan, Polytechnic, Millikan and Lakewood.

Through its 2010 Improving Teacher Quality initiative, CPEC awarded nearly $9 million in grants to help California teachers from high-need school districts. The grants were awarded to partnership projects to bring together K-12 teachers and institutions to educate and prepare teachers in order to narrow the achievement gap.

“Long Beach Unified’s high schools show an achievement gap between high performing and low-performing subgroups, including Latino and African-American students, English learners and students with disabilities. This gap is particularly evident in algebra,” said Richards-Tutor. “The primary focus of this project is to improve the math achievement of all students through a professional development program for high school algebra teachers. At the same time, we are hoping to help close the achievement gap that exists among students within the district.”

Benken pointed out that Project EQALS is critically important for a couple of reasons. First, high school students’ mathematics proficiency levels in California are low, particularly for algebra. Second, algebra has historically been a gatekeeper for students and often prevents students from pursing advanced mathematics. But there was one other reason more specific to LBUSD.

“Long Beach Unified is implementing changes to their algebra curriculum beginning this year,” noted Benken, who is also the graduate advisor for mathematics education at CSULB. “Professional development is needed to help teachers learn how to adapt to the changes and utilize best practices. This will help increase proficiency and reduce gaps among various subgroups of students.”

Project EQALS is designed to improve the algebra content knowledge and teaching practices of participating teachers through scientifically based instructional practices.

The professional development – which will include intensive summer institutes, on-site periodic workshops and on-going coaching and support in the classroom – will focus on deepening teachers’ content knowledge around algebraic concepts. It also will target improving teachers’ ability to monitor student progress and differentiate instruction, including specific strategies for meeting the needs of both English learners and students with disabilities.

The project will develop a model for using flexible teaching methods based on student needs, called differentiated instruction, and collect data about these methods’ effectiveness. It also will create professional learning communities to positively impact teacher development and support on-going communication and collaboration. Their model has been designed to have a widespread, sustainable effect on teaching practices and mathematics achievement throughout LBUSD.

“Our goal is to have the greatest impact possible within the district; thus we want to include teachers from as many schools as possible,” Richards-Tutor said. “Participating teachers will then serve as leaders within their sites and can help colleagues adopt new, effective teaching strategies.”

Project EQALS began Oct. 1, and already Benken and Richards-Tutor are working on teacher recruitment and selection, research protocols and finalizing the professional development calendar/content for spring. The first of two cohorts is expected to have an orientation meeting in December, and the three-year professional development program will begin in January.

Benken said the district and school principals are very excited about the program.

“Professor Richards-Tutor and I have both worked with LBUSD on many projects and therefore asked them first regarding partnering with us on this grant,” explained Benken. “CSULB and LBUSD have a long-standing, effective partnership; many of their current and past teachers and administrators are graduates of our programs.”

All involved with Project EQALS are eager to move forward and are thankful for the funding and opportunity to make change and close the achievement gap in algebra.

–Rick Gloady