TAMS: A success story of increased student competence
through teacher training
In Chicago the Teachers Academy of Mathematics and Science, TAMS,
has been operating for almost 8 years to improve the teaching and learning
of science and mathematics. The Academy was created through the impetus
of Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman, Priscilla and Henry Frisch of the
University of Chicago, Gordon Berry of Argonne National Laboratory,
Correta McFerren,a community educational activist, and many others.
This group and a large number of educators from Chicagoarea universities,
museums, national laboratory staff, teachers and parents all came together
to create a plan for improving the teaching of mathematics and science
in Chicago.
The initial set of meetings were held to work out mechanisms and
organizational relations in order to create a proposal to the Department
of Energy to start the Academy. This proposal had actually been requested
by the Secretary of Energy, Admiral Watkins, and the Department of
Energy provided the start up funding for organization. A key early
decision was to create the Academy as an independent, separate entity
from the Chicago Public Schools. While this allowed the Academy to
be innovative, it created a separation between the Academy and its
target which continues to this day. A second tactical decision was
to start with the elementary (K8) schools and not work with the high
schools.
The first set of K8 schools applied to participate in the training
programs and these applications had to be made by the school principals
and their local school councils. The requirements for participation
implied that all of the faculty who would be involved in mathematics
and science education would need to attend the training sessions. The
training of the teachers used two existing programs that had been developed
in the Chicago area. The mathematics program was the University of
Chicago Mathematics Program (UCSMP) and the science program was Teaching
Integrated Mathematics and Science (TIMS) and was developed by a physicist
at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Howard Goldberg as described
above. Every teacher in the building was involved in at least one semester
each of mathematics and science training.
In Chicago there are several different sets of standardized tests
that all students are required to take. At the state level a test called
the IGAP is given each year in mathematics to elementary grades 3and
6 and in other subjects and grades. In recent years the IGAP exams
have included tests in science also After TAMS' first five years an
analysis was made of the IGAP scores in mathematics for both the third
grades and the sixth grades. At first, analyzing the averages of the
successive third grades for each of the schools involved in the Academy
did not show a significant change over the time period. There is a
very large variation in the abilities and experiences of successive
groups of students and these differences made any trend difficult to
see. However, because these schools have been in the Academy program
for over three years, it was possible to compare the same students
with themselves three years later when they took the next level of
the test in sixth grade. The IGAP test scores are normed for each class
to the same scale and it was possible to compare differences between
the average third grade scores for a whole school and the average sixth
grade score for the same cohort three years later. This difference
could be called the "value added" and should be a crude measure
of whether these students increased in their achievement. It turned
out that there were about 12 schools that had been in the Academy's
program for the 5 years and about 14 schools that had just joined the
Academy in the last year or so. Both sets of schools were very similar,
being elementary schools in the Chicago Public School system. When
the "value added" scores, the difference between sixth grade
and third grade (from three years earlier), were compared the schools
who had been in the Academy for five years showed a large statistically
significant difference, while the control group showed a difference
that was very small and not statistically significant. Much of this
data can be seen at the website of the Academy (http://www.tams.org)
It is important that the scores being compared were averages for
each grade within a particular school building. This difference in
the scores for whole buildings represented a significant change from
the other schools in Chicago in that time period. It is actually a
remarkable result because most educational interventions, which involve
teacher training and no direct student contact, do not usually show
a statistically significant buildingwide student response. The major
intervention on these schools during this time had been the training
of the teachers in the process of using mathematics and analysis tools
for science that were included in the TIMS materials.
Since that initial analysis of the Academy schools and their "value
added" scores on the IGAP mathematics tests, a very large number
of other comparisons have been studied. The impact of the Academy program
on schools has continued to be significant. The Academy schools have
continued to have greater gains on IGAP scores than have comparable
subsets of the Chicago Public Schools as a whole. These Academy schools
are not special as regards socioeconomic level or other characteristic
in comparison with the other schools in Chicago. In fact, many of these
schools represent low income populations. More thorough evaluation
studies will soon be submitted to various journals and should be available
on the Academy web site in the near future. (http://www.tams.org)
What has been the nature of the academy program?
The process involves several phases after an initial application.
The first phase (Readiness) of the process involves a school selfassessment
and an introduction of the school community to the basic ideas of mathematics
and science education reform and the new and existing standards. In
the second phase (Instruction) all teachers participate in two years
of training in math and science in which both the content and process
of doing each are learned. The major characteristic of the instruction
is that teachers are given a chance to build strong foundations of
understanding, skills, and confidence in doing mathematics and science.
The last two phases (Implementation and FollowUp) have Academy staff
working in the classrooms with the teachers to implement their learning
and to bring all aspects of the school (parents and staff) into an
effort to reform the science and math education in the school. The
overall program takes three years in which teachers cover both science
and mathematics training and work collectively to coordinate the various
classes and activities of the school. The Follow Up phase can last
for several years if the school chooses to support the cost. The subject
matter training for each teacher lasts for 70 hours with 25 hours of
classroom support. Teachers also spend 40 hours in collaborative curriculum
planning and at least 6 hours of computer training. School leadership
teams (administrators and parent leaders) spend an equivalent amount
of time in similar activities.
What have been the lessons learned by the Academy?
The major lesson is that teachers responsible for mathematics and
science at the elementary and primary levels are not usually comfortable
with either of these subjects and also not terribly skilled in either.
Providing them with extensive experience and background in these subjects
in a way that can be translated to classroom teaching appears to make
a measurable difference in student achievement. An extensive inschool
effort to assist teachers to adopt new practices is undoubtedly of
critical importance.
Physicists can make a difference, but not by acting alone and not
without great difficulty. The natural first approximation to a solution,
enhancing the competence of the teachers, is probably the correct step,
but even carrying out this approach is not easy. The teachers of elementary
and primary students did not enter their profession with subject matter
concerns upper most in their minds. It is not possible or effective
simply to put these teachers into graduate or adult level courses in
mathematics and science. What seems to work best is to provide the
teachers with practice and experience with tools that they can actually
use in the classroom, but which involve the processes of doing science
and applying mathematics so that continued use can enhance the teacher's
level of competence. The TIMS program is a very good example of such
a program.
Finally, securing funds for the continuing operation is a significant
challenge, especially if the institution is to be separate from the
local school district. Under the direction the current director of
TAMS, Lourdes Monteguido, this organization has made an almost complete
transition from federal support to State and local funding. The costs
of this effective effort are still large compared to the usual expenditures
for teacher training and development. The average cost is about $4000
per teacher per year. The Academy continues to work with Chicago schools
and is working to enable similar academies in other sites in Illinois.
