Teaching Eureka Math with Fidelity is key to student success
When Johnny Rowland Jr. took over as superintendent of Webster Parish (LA) Schools in July 2017, it was clear that something had to be done to improve math instruction. Scores in the 6,300-student district in northwestern Louisiana were continuing to decline, especially in the higher grades and in some cases by double digits.
One problem was that schools were not using the same math curriculum or teaching math in the same way. “We had various schools that were still using some of the older math materials, some that were all on board with Eureka Math, and some that were doing a little bit of Eureka Math and a little bit of the old stuff,” recalled Elementary Supervisor Dusty Rowland.
The only grade with steadily improving performance was the grade that had the most classrooms using Eureka Math with the most fidelity. That fact, along with the state education department’s Tier 1 rating of the curriculum, convinced Superintendent Rowland to require that Eureka Math be used in all 15 schools starting this school year.
Challenging All Principals
“At my very first principals meeting in July,” he said, “I shared with them the data, which were essentially bad news, and I just told them, ‘We have got to do things differently. We’ve got to step out of our comfort zones, set aside our personal feelings and opinions, and implement Eureka Math across all grade levels immediately.”
From there, the district began offering extensive professional development beginning in July and scheduled PD opportunites throughout the school year. All principals and some district administrators attended a daylong Eureka Math Professional Development session. In addition, the district’s two staff development facilitators began working regularly with schools to answer questions, provide guidance, and help teachers stick to the curriculum.
Teachers want specific advice on teaching weekly units, planning lessons, and determining which concepts are the most important. But Supervisor Rowland said the main challenge is changing mind-sets. “I think our biggest issue is teachers just actually letting go, letting the kids have that productive struggle, and working through the curriculum.”
Mostly Positive Responses from Teachers, Parents, Students
Both district leaders said the response from teachers has been mostly positive. “As we’ve gone out in schools, talked with teachers, and had our meetings, it’s really been a pleasant surprise. You never know how people are going to take a big overhaul like this,” said Supervisor Rowland. “Just today when I was in a school, I had teachers pulling me in, making sure they were doing this right or that right.”
Most parents here, as elsewhere, have no experience with a curriculum that emphasizes deep conceptual understanding of math over simple rote memorization. But district leaders said the achievement data have convinced most parents that this approach is best for their kids. The Eureka Math Parent Tip Sheets and examples also help.
Students who used Eureka Math before are thriving, while others must work to catch up. “Our biggest struggle right now is implementing Grades 7, 8, Algebra 1, and Geometry with some of the kids who have not had Eureka Math in the past. We’re working to try to support them the best way we can,” said Supervisor Rowland.
She and the superintendent are both very hopeful. “We need to make sure that we’re all using a common language,” she said. “We tell them to use the language that’s in Eureka Math because that’s the language that will be on our assessment, and it’s something that we need to build, Kindergarten through Geometry.”
The takeaways? Trust the curriculum. Teach with fidelity. Meet students where they are while pushing them to do their best. And trust that the curriculum will allow students to reach mastery over time.