Research indicates that early understanding of math concepts is the most powerful predictor of later school success. Algebra in particular equips students with abstract reasoning skills that form the foundation for advanced mathematics and science. While the COVID-19 pandemic set back progress in this critical subject for all school districts, the impressive gains by Garland ISD students over the last two years provide a shining example of how educators can pave a path to success for students and each other.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, data from statewide assessments indicated that nearly two-thirds of Texas students met grade-level proficiency in Algebra I. By 2021, the next time STAAR exams were administered, that number had fallen to less than half.
Over the next few years, schools across the state worked hard to recover from pandemic-related learning disruptions. During that time, Garland ISD made dramatic progress. The percentage of students meeting grade level standards in Algebra I rose by 10 percentage points during each of the past two years – outpacing both the county and the state.
Starting with data
This impressive progress in Algebra I didn’t happen by accident. In fact, it all began with an intentional look at the data.
“STAAR data played a pivotal role in decision-making, guiding the focus on key standards and strategic planning to address student performance in Algebra I,” said Michael Arreola, director of secondary math and science.
Equipped with actionable information provided by our state assessment, Garland ISD teachers and administrators set to work on a concrete plan focused on providing enhanced support to students and teachers.
The district’s math curriculum was streamlined and realigned to the redesigned STAAR test. Teachers received resources for effective instructional delivery, and lesson plans were redesigned to ensure a more effective and aligned curriculum.
The district added a secondary math coordinator position to provide focused attention to middle school and high school math departments, and GISD added a district-level instructional facilitator designated specifically for Algebra I, ensuring targeted support for teachers.
And Texas COVID Learning Acceleration Supports (TCLAS) grant funding enabled Garland ISD to create new campus support teacher and instructional coach positions that serve as a resource for classroom teachers by identifying research based instructional strategies, especially for at-risk students, students with limited English proficiency and students with other special needs.
Continuous professional development
Garland ISD didn’t adopt a set-it-and-forget attitude toward reform. The district adopted structural reforms that include a secondary math curriculum advisory board that promotes cross-campus collaboration, feedback, and implementation of best practices. Garland ISD also scheduled four planning days throughout the school year for all Algebra I teachers to gather and share insights, strategies and best practices.
A promising future
In addition to strong gains in Algebra I, proficiency in seventh and eighth grade math has grown 7 and 6 percentage points, respectively. As impressive as these results have been, future results could be even stronger because Garland ISD is ahead of the game in implementing advanced math pathways, a practice that will be more common in coming years thanks to Senate Bill 2124 introduced by Senator Creighton during this year’s legislative session. These new pathways put more students on track to take eighth-grade Algebra, a prerequisite for more advanced coursework in high school and an avenue to boost diversity in honors classes.
Garland ISD’s commitment to collaboration, data utilization and instructional innovation has been instrumental in achieving the notable increase in students’ Algebra I scores. Michael Arreola, Garland ISD’s director of secondary math and science math team has this advice for other school districts aiming for a similar boost in performance:
“Focus on collaborative planning, targeted support, data-driven decision-making and continuous professional development. Utilize high-quality resources, cross-campus collaboration and technology tools for enhanced instruction.”
We look forward to seeing more and more Garland ISD students thrive as they take Algebra I and advanced mathematics. And we look forward to seeing more school districts adopt these types of data-driven best practices to support students and teachers on their paths to success.