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California State University, Northridge

TEAMS: Teachers Empowered to Advance Mathematics for Students


TEAMS will enable LA students to achieve excellence in math education and pursue STEM-related degrees and careers. The most critical factor that impacts success in math is the quality and effectiveness of teachers. This initiative will train 8th and 9th grade math teachers on an innovative approach to instruction developed by CSUN professor Dr. Ivan Cheng and extensively tested for effectiveness. Moreover, this initiative will enable participating teachers to be mentors to their colleagues at their respective schools.

Describe the mission of your organization.

California State University, Northridge enables students to realize their educational goals. The University’s first priority is to promote the welfare and intellectual progress of students through a variety of programs and activities. We foster a rigorous and contemporary understanding of the liberal arts, sciences, and professional disciplines.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

In 2019, only 2 in 5 public school students in LA County tested grade level proficient in math on the Common Core aligned state assessment. While 51% of 3rd graders tested proficient, proficiency dropped dramatically to 31% by grade 11. Studies demonstrate learning loss has been most acute in K-8 math during pandemic distance learning. The NWEA’s comparison of fall 2019 to fall 2020 assessment results across 4.4 million students found math skills dropped between 5-10%. Math is increasingly becoming a barrier, rather than a gateway, for accessing the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in the global economy. The key reason: most teachers focus on formal procedures to solve textbook problems, rather than help students develop a conceptual understanding of what those procedures mean and how they apply to other situations. Students in lower-income schools and students of color are more likely to be taught procedures rather than conceptual understanding.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

Highly capable, effective, and engaging teachers are the most critical factor for students to succeed in math and feel empowered to pursue STEM oriented careers. Strengthening the bench of teachers will make a profound difference. Thus, the TEAMS initiative will train a cohort of teachers in shifting from a procedural textbook approach to helping their students develop a deep conceptual understanding of math. This pedagogical approach is based on research that shows students learn through a process of “progressive formalization” where they develop increasingly abstract and deeper understandings of a concept by first making sense of their informal knowledge before moving on to formalized rules and procedures. This approach, along with the related tools and training, has already demonstrated its effectiveness in a randomized controlled study. Thus, in this initiative, teachers will be trained on using this approach, and then engage in job-embedded coaching for the academic year, using the Responsive Teaching Cycle (RTC), a model that has also demonstrated effectiveness in previous studies. With RTC, teams of teachers and coaches work together to create Progressive Formalization Tasks (PFTs). PFTs are pre-designed lesson templates for Common Core math standards, all available online and customizable by the user. As more teachers develop the ability to adopt this approach, they can then become champions of PFTs to their colleagues, which can sustain this effort beyond the grant.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct impact
Indirect impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

In the short-term, mathematics education at the schools represented in our training cohort will be more engaging and effective. In turn, students will be more confident and motivated to learn math, raising proficiency scores and notably reducing or eliminating equity gaps entirely. Most importantly, in the long-term, LA County will have a stronger pipeline of talent prepared and motivated to complete rigorous STEM oriented degrees in higher education and in technical schools, lifting our degree completion rates and time to completion. LA County will become more attractive to high wage industries such as Biopharmaceuticals and Information Technology, which require a highly skilled workforce. Moreover, as the pace of automation increases and low skill jobs disappear, job candidates will need to master core subjects such as math, as well as the logical thinking and problem solving skills they inherently develop. Raising educational outcomes will future proof the city from this trend.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

The effectiveness of teaching with PFTs was studied extensively in a randomized controlled experiment that met the criteria for the highest rating in the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Standards (Version 4.1). Based on scores from over 7,300 8th grade students across 10 school districts in California, the impact of using PFTs was remarkably positive and statistically significant (with large effect sizes of 0.7 and 1.139). Most notably, the intervention eliminated the achievement gap between English learners (EL) and their non-EL counterparts. Similar to the i3 study, TEAMS will be evaluated with a mix of quantitative and qualitative data. Using a quasi-experimental design, TEAMS will compare program teachers’ student learning outcomes with that of non-participating teachers. TEAMS will also collect ongoing, formative data to inform continuous program improvement, including fidelity of implementation measures and feedback from teachers and students on their perceptions of PFTs.

Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.

Our partner is the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy & Jobs, a bipartisan membership organization that brings together leaders from business, labor, academic and nonprofit communities to advance policy initiatives that grow the economy and create quality jobs throughout the LA region. As the Coalition has prioritized the urgent need to strengthen the pipeline of STEM talent, it is committed to underwriting subsequent grants to scale the reach of this initiative. The Coalition’s role is closely modeled after its partnership with CSUDH to rollout teacher training on Next Generation Science Standards, which won the $200k LA2050 Learn Category Grant in 2018. That partnership has resulted in multiple grant awards with over 200 teachers trained, with outstanding feedback from participants.

Which of the learn metrics will you impact?​

  • College graduates
  • College matriculation
  • Proficiency in STEM

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the best place to CREATE