Giving Compass' Take:

• David Wakelyn explains how Allegany County is beating the odds in math after brining in consultants to revamp their program. 

• How can other poor districts learn from these results? Which districts in your area would benefit from additional support? 

• Learn about a poor district in Texas is producing big results for students


Nationally, very few schools — about 3 percent — have both high poverty rates and high student achievement. Of the 1,200 elementary and middle schools in Maryland shown below (each circle represents the size of a school, with the poorest schools on the far left), only 23 are in the upper left tier, considered to be beating the odds. Allegany has six such schools, shown in orange, and six more that are close to high-performing. For comparison, Montgomery County, the nation’s 17th-largest school district in suburban Washington, D.C., has 82 schools where more than half of all students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, yet only three of them are beating the odds.

What’s Allegany County doing differently? What lessons might there be for other districts seeking to break the link between students’ learning and their socioeconomic background? The answer is straightforward, if unsexy: a steady effort across the district to create coherent learning systems of professional development and coaching, curriculum matched closely to assessments and extra time for all students, all bound together by a strong vision from the district’s leadership.

In 2014-15, the consultants worked with the district coaches to develop a new curriculum framework and pacing guides that lay out what should be taught each month, within and across grades. The coaches, in turn, worked with cadres of teachers from around the district to create instructional units (approximately 5 to 6 per course) and links to resources kept in a district portal. The units line up with similar ones created by Eureka Math, which is one of only 12 curricula rated as “rigorous and coherent” by EdReports.org. But the district doesn’t have a single textbook used by all teachers. The pacing guides and units help drive consistency across schools, but not everyone is expected to be on the same page of the same textbook every day. Teachers have broad latitude — or “voice and choice,” as McGowan said — about their lesson plans.

Allegany used to give its own quarterly benchmark assessments, but it had to roll them back under the state’s cap limiting time on testing. Three times a year, teachers give commercially available interim tests, which predict and report student growth over time. The results are linked with student grades and PARCC scores in a Google spreadsheet, so teachers can see not just the data from the current year but also each student’s learning trajectory over the previous three years.

Read the full article about one district beating the odds in math by David Wakelyn at The 74.