The California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) has awarded Cal State Long Beach (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 mathematics achievement among students, 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 that will provide professional development activities that bring together K-12 teachers and institutions that educate and prepare teachers for the purpose of narrowing 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.