Remaking Our District's Math Alignment With College Partners
BY DAVID R. SCHULER/School Administrator, November 2018

David Schuler (second from right), superintendent of Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Ill., observes an Algebra II class, a principal gateway to college admissions.

Roughly three years ago, our school district in suburban Chicago began to talk seriously about postsecondary readiness and to delve into data on how our graduates were doing.

We had to acknowledge a disturbing truth: Students were failing in significant numbers to obtain a college degree because their preparation in math was inadequate.

Algebra II played an integral part of the conversation. Research shows that successful completion of Algebra II in high school is one of the most accurate predictors of success in college. It’s considered an intellectual gateway to abstract reasoning.

This critical benchmark — one of the many research-based metrics in AASA’s Redefining Ready! initiative — led educators in my district to re-examine and realign our math curriculum so every student has access to this level of math.

We began by asking our math division leaders to identify ways to increase student engagement in relevant math concepts through increased collaboration with our middle school and higher education partners. The latter worked closely with us to build a scope and sequence of math courses that prepare our students for college, career and life.

Today, we have algebra and geometry readiness indicators for incoming high school freshmen that help middle school instructors determine proper placement for their students. Coding and statistics now are taught in math to every single student, providing them with important literacy and problem-solving skills for thriving in the 21st century.

Dual Credit Options
Dual credit courses and Advanced Placement previously were targeted to a limited group of advanced students. But the revised curriculum and increase in dual credit opportunities have effectively broken down barriers of college access, college success and affordability.

Seniors can earn dual credit in math courses or are guaranteed placement in college-level math once they graduate high school thanks to articulation agreements with Eastern Illinois University and Harper College.

This approach supports a student’s college-going identity, providing early experiences that affirm their self-efficacy. The majority of these students will graduate with anywhere from three to seven dual credits in courses such as quantitative literacy, college algebra and college statistics — an amazing opportunity that will help them save time and money on college tuition.

As part of our new math alignment, we also created different math pathways for students with disparate math abilities. Algebra II is embedded into each of these pathways.

We also have extended opportunities beyond the Advanced Placement program through dual credit partnerships for students at the highest level of math. Beginning this school year, more than 120 students across all six of our schools will take a sophomore-level college math class.

Professional Gains
We created goals and built a three-year timeline for implementation, which included providing professional development opportunities for our math educators.

This three-year period (which I would recommend to others) allowed us to determine next steps, provide our educators with time to become credentialed and roll out our vision.

Implementing a program like this has its challenges. For example, many school districts might see teacher credentialing as an obstacle. In Illinois, high school educators who teach dual credit classes are required by the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting body, to carry the same credentials as a professor.

To overcome this obstacle, we created partnerships with institutions of higher education, notably Eastern Illinois University, to develop a cohort program specifically designed for our math educators so they can earn credit in math to become credentialed to deliver college-level coursework. We’re also working with the math faculty at the university to develop online cohort programs to make the process more seamless.

Once we had credentialed educators, they worked hard to ensure their courses mirrored those taught on campus by visiting the university, inviting professors to visit us and meeting through web conferencing.

We know math remains a significant challenge to earning a postsecondary credential. Students who start college in developmental coursework are significantly less likely to finish. To ensure our graduates persist and complete college, we’ve partnered in a statewide framework of developmental transitional math courses with community colleges and some private and public universities statewide that are portable to our university partner institutions in Illinois. When students succeed in these courses with us, our community college will accept the class in lieu of a test score and place students directly into college-level math.

Upward Trajectory
For school leaders looking to redesign their math curriculum with higher education, I recommend a frequent communication plan between partners from the beginning. I also encourage a multi-year professional development plan for educators.

It took tremendous effort and focused attention of staff and our higher education partners, but together we are changing the trajectory of these students’ academic lives.

DAVID SCHULER, a past president of AASA, is superintendent of High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Ill. Twitter: @DSchuler1970