FEd August 1998 Newsletter - TAMS: A success story of increased student competence through teacher training

August 1998



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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 Chicago-area 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 (K-8) schools and not work with the high schools.

The first set of K-8 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 building-wide 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 socio-economic 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 self-assessment 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 Follow-Up) 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 in-school 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.