To help underserved students, project gives teachers new tools
“There are four children and two sandwiches. If the children want to share the sandwiches, how much would each child get?”
In the second-grade classroom at Lakeridge Elementary, students quietly work through the problem in notebooks and with fingers. A young boy shares his answer — two-fourths — that he reached by dividing each sandwich into four parts and assigning parts to each child.
“Do you agree? Or do you respectfully disagree?” teacher Nicole Brown asks the class.
A girl wearing a bright purple hijab raises her hand to say that she got one-half. Brown poses additional questions for the students to consider: How are the two answers the same? How are they different?
Teachers like Brown make these lessons look easy, but this next-level learning environment also developed through a deep collaboration between Lakeridge and researchers from the University of Washington College of Education.
In 2010, Lakeridge was federally designated as one of the lowest-achieving schools in Washington state; only one in five students could comprehend math at their grade level.
“We were heartbroken,” recalls Brown. “We had been working really hard on reading, and saw scores improve. But then we got the news that it still wasn’t enough.”
That same year, communities from seven school districts in South Seattle and south King County united alongside organizational partners, including the College of Education, to launch the Road Map Project, a program aimed at closing achievement gaps and making access to a quality education more equitable throughout the region.
“We know that many of our students come from homes where English isn’t the first language, where there’s poverty and transiency,” explains Jessica Granger, Lakeridge principal from 2011 to 2016. “They face more challenges than the average child, but that can’t be an excuse. You can’t blame children.”
Math, in particular, was in need of drastic improvement, so Granger was soon in contact with Professor Elham Kazemi at the UW College of Education. Kazemi had worked with other schools, but knew that for Lakeridge, an intense partnership would be needed.
“We wanted to develop a culture of learning where teachers felt confident and supported,” says Kazemi. She knew that investing in adult learning would lead to higher-quality learning and improved test scores for students.
Kazemi worked closely with UW Bothell Associate Professor Allison Hintz and several graduate students to come up with a plan. They proposed full-day, immersive sessions known as Math Labs. Teachers would gather in the school’s conference room to learn and practice new strategies, then head to an actual class to try out the lesson — as a team — with students.
As the teachers embraced the changes, their students equally adapted, devouring lessons like they never had before.
“You could see a huge shift in their understanding of math,” says Kert Lin, a fourth-grade teacher at Lakeridge and College of Education alumnus. “I think what’s made it so successful is that we provide kids with tools to show off what they’re learning. You can’t be in an environment like that and not have fun.”
By the end of the partnership, it was clear that the hard work paid off. Test scores rose across the school. Fifth-grade scores, in particular, saw dramatic change; the percent of students meeting math standards jumped from 20 percent to nearly 80.
But the school saw the increased scores as a byproduct of the true victory: Students were learning. Lakeridge considers one of their biggest accomplishments to be helping students who struggled the most rise from failing to passing-level, a much harder leap to make in terms of learning.
The scalable nature of the program is already enabling Kazemi and other faculty members to build professional learning communities at other schools in the Road Map region. Countless teachers and students stand to benefit, and Kazemi hopes that the work will continue spreading throughout the area.
“Education opens doors for opportunity, so our goal is to keep all students’ doors open,” adds Granger. “If you can change what a child thinks is possible for themselves, it will change what they think they can do through education.”