Research on Mathematics Specialists

Since 2004, the National Science Foundation has supported a rigorous research and policy study incorporating Mathematics Specialist preparation programs and randomly selected treatment and control elementary (K-5) schools (NSF grants ESI-0353360 and EHR-0412324).  Grant-supported trained specialists were placed in the treatment schools as on-site coaches to determine the effectiveness of a school-based Mathematics Specialists program.  Grant findings are that Mathematics Specialists over time help classroom teachers develop more effective teaching practices that positively affect student learning and achievement.

 

Mathematics Specialists are having a significant impact on student achievement

The study involved over 24,500 student test scores drawn from Grades 3, 4, and 5 in 36 schools across 5 Virginia school divisions over a 3-year period. Analyses revealed that over time Mathematics Specialists have a statistically significant positive influence on student achievement in all three grades. Compared to control schools:

  • The increase in scores for third-grade students in schools with a trained Mathematics Specialist was on average of nearly 10 points higher on Virginia’s Standards of Learning mathematics tests during the specialist’s second year, and over 16 points higher during the specialist’s third year.
  • The increase in scores for fourth-grade students in schools with a trained Mathematics Specialist averaged a statistically significant 15 points higher on Virginia’s Standards of Learning mathematics tests during the specialist’s second year, and over 13 points higher during the specialist’s third year.
  • The increase in scores for fifth-grade students in schools with a trained Mathematics Specialist was also statistically significant, an average of over 19 points higher on Virginia’s Standards of Learning mathematics tests during the specialist’s second year and over 20 points higher during the specialist’s third year.
  • Policy leaders and principals in research school divisions had unanimous confidence in the in-school coaching model, and all were eager to implement it in all elementary and middle schools.

Virginia’s preparation program for Mathematics Specialists is of high quality

Mathematics Specialist master’s degree programs are offered collaboratively at six Virginia universities (program enrollment of 250 in 2009-10). Also, the Virginia Board of Education approved a K-8 math specialist endorsement as part of its rigorous licensure standards that reinforces the worth of well-prepared Mathematics Specialists. Currently, it is estimated that local school divisions in Virginia employ 250 school-based individuals as elementary or middle school Mathematics Specialists.

  • Mathematics Specialists engaged in rigorous professional coursework on math content, pedagogy and coaching classroom teachers, prior to and during their first year of placement in the grant schools.
  • Mathematics Specialists knew significantly more mathematics after completing the program, as measured by a nationally developed and validated pre/post test.
  • Mathematics Specialists transferred knowledge learned in their preparation programs to their work with classroom teachers and students, as shown by the grant’s case studies.
  • Mathematics Specialists’ impact on student achievement increased as they gained experience and as collaboration with school instructional and administrative staff grew.

For further information contact Professor William Haver, Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Mathematics, wehaver@vcu.edu, 804-828-1302 ; and visit the Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition website http://www.vamsc.org/.

 

Research Papers Describing the Impact of Mathematics Specialists

Campbell, Patricia. F. & Malkus, Nathaniel N.  (manuscipt submitted for publication).  The Mathematical Knowledge and Beliefs of Elementary Mathematics Specialists-Coaches.  ZDM:  The International Journal on Mathematics Education. 46(2).

This paper reports on one aspect of a larger research project conducted in the United States that designed and implemented an elementary mathematics, specialist-coach preparation program and evaluated the effect of qualified specialist-coaches on student achievement. The paper discusses a conceptual framework for coaching in which a specialist-coach is to serve as a “more knowledgeable other” for a community of practice in a school and ultimately to impact both the knowledge and professional practice of teachers as well as the conduct of the school’s mathematics program as a whole. Specialist-coaches have unique opportunities and challenges in this daunting task, and the paper discusses one program designed to prepare well-respected teachers for the transition to the role and responsibilities of a specialist-coach. The reported analyses document changes in specialist-coaches’ mathematical content knowledge, mathematical knowledge for teaching, and beliefs regarding mathematics teaching and learning over the preparation program and during the specialist-coaches’ first years of service in a school. These specialist-coaches’ mathematical content knowledge grew and their beliefs became more aligned with a Making Sense perspective during the preparation program, and their changed state persisted throughout 2-3 years of service as specialist-coaches. Evidence addressing the specialist-coach’s mathematical knowledge for teaching was mixed, but suggested that growth occurred both during the preparation program and in their first year of coaching, stabilizing in the years following.

 

Whitenack, J. W. & Ellington, A. J. (2013). Supporting Middle School Mathematics Specialists’ Work: A Case for Learning and Changing Teachers’ Perspectives.  The Mathematics Enthusiast, 10 (3), 647 – 678.

In this paper, we highlight one whole‐class discussion that took place in a middle school mathematics Rational Number and Proportional Reasoning course, one of the six mathematics courses teachers take to complete our state‐wide middle school mathematics specialist program. Statistical measures indicate that teachers made gains in their understanding of concepts and substantial gains in their views of teaching and preparedness. We provide a microanalysis of one of the lessons, to explain, in part, how they might have made this progress. To develop our argument, we coordinate a social analysis with an analysis of the types of specialized mathematical knowledge that teachers might have considered as they engaged in these discussions. As we will illustrate, these types of classroom discussions provided teachers opportunities to consider new visions formathematics learning and teaching. ( full document)

 

Campbell, Patricia. F. & Malkus, Nathaniel N.  (2013).  Elementary Mathematics Specialists Influencing Student Achievement.  Teaching Children Mathematics. 20(3) (pp. 198-205).

Elementary mathematics specialists are placed in schools to provide on-site, collaborative professional development.  A 3-year study found specialists positively affected student achievement in grades 3, 4, and 5 over time.  This positive effect took time to emerge and was not evident after only 1 year.  Potentially influencing factors are addressed.

 

Blount, D. & Singleton, J.  (2013).  Building a Case for Mathematics Specialists Programs.  The Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations. Volume 13, 191 – 207.

 

Singleton, J.  & Blount, D.  (2013).  Strong Support for Mathematics Specialist in Virginia.  The Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations. Volume 13, 245 – 253.

 

Campbell, Patricia. F. & Malkus, Nathaniel N.  (2013).  Elementary Mathematics Specialists Influencing Student Achievement.  Teaching Children Mathematics. 20(3) (pp. 198-205).

Elementary mathematics specialists are placed in schools to provide on-site, collaborative professional development.  A 3-year study found specialists positively affected student achievement in grades 3, 4, and 5 over time.  This positive effect took time to emerge and was not evident after only 1 year.  Potentially influencing factors are addressed.

 

Campbell, P. F. (2012).  Coaching and Elementary Mathematics Specialists: Findings from Research. In J. M. Bay-Williams (editor), Professional Collaborations in Mathematics Teaching and Learning: Seeking Success for All.  (pp. 147-159).  Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers or Mathematics.

This chapter presents a review of published research addressing the complexity and effectiveness of the elementary mathematics coach or specialist.  As such it considers research addressing the intended roles for specialists and the challenges they typically face in practice, as well as the findings of a study that documented the statistically significant, positive, impact of elementary mathematics specialists on student achievement and on teacher beliefs in Grades 3-5.  This paper presents evidence supporting the following inference:  Elementary mathematics specialists may serve as positive change agents for instructional improvement and teachers’ professional growth, but to do so specialists must have the time and tendency to establish, develop and maintain collaborative teacher-specialist-principal networks in their schools.  It is these networks that support a collective, professional identity for a school’s mathematics program.  A critical component for improved student achievement is the positioning of specialists who have strong mathematical content and pedagogical knowledge, who understand their responsibilities, and who can apply the tenets of skilled coaching.  But to maximize impact, these knowledgeable specialists need to work collaboratively with supportive principals as instructional leaders in their schools. 

 

Campbell, P., & Malkus, N.  The Impact of Elementary Mathematics Coaches on Student Achievement. The Elementary School Journal, Volume 111 (2011), 430 – 454. (full document)

Elementary mathematics coaches are placed in schools to construct leadership roles and to provide on-site, collaborative, professional development addressing mathematical content, pedagogy, and curriculum in an effort to enhance instruction and to improve student achievement. This 3-year randomized control study found that over time coaches positively impacted student achievement in Grades 3, 4 and 5. In these grades, this significant positive effect on student achievement was not evident at the conclusion of the first year of placement of a coach in a school. It emerged as knowledgeable coaches gained experience and as a school’s instructional and administrative staffs learned and worked together. The coaches in this study engaged in a high degree of professional coursework addressing mathematics content, pedagogy, and coaching prior to and during at least their first year of placement. Findings should not be generalized to coaches with less expertise.

 

Campbell, P. (2011). Elementary Mathematics Specialists: A Merger of Policy, Practice, and Research. In W. F. Tate, K. D. King, & C. R. Anderson, (editors), Disrupting Tradition: Research and Practice Pathways in Mathematics Education. (pp. 93-103). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers or Mathematics.

When education is a successful enterprise, it is marked by collaboration between teachers, principals, students, parents, and district-level administrators, as well as by attention to district and state policy specifying assessment, curriculum and licensure.  Research investigating the effectiveness of ideas or treatments defining change in some aspect of mathematics education in an effort to advance student achievement requires collaboration and attention to most of these components.  This chapter illustrates how many of these constituents came together in Virginia as it tells the story of a research and development effort that investigated the effectiveness of elementary mathematics specialists.  This research project had the goal of informing, if not influencing, policy in mathematics education.  As such, it advances three lessons addressing the intersection of research and practice:

  1. Be Willing to Learn.  While it is critical for partners in an effort to share a common goal, it is also critical to bring other areas of expertise “to the table” while respecting the discrepant nature of the knowledge that differing team members provide.
  2. Embed the Enterprise.  When partnered teachers, specialists, mathematics supervisors, principals, mathematicians, and mathematics education researchers jointly feel that they serve essential roles and that their voices are being heard, they can garner support from their multiple audiences and keep lines of communication open while “waiting” for research results.
  3. Collaborate without Competition. Policymakers, researchers, professional developers, mathematicians, mathematics educators, administrators, and practitioners have differing perspectives that are frequently contradictory and sometimes elusive.  By sharing a non-competitive sense of mutual obligation and responsibility, the research and practice enterprise may ultimately pay dividends.

 

Campbell, P., & Malkus, N.  The Impact of Elementary Mathematics Specialists. The Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations. Volume 12 (2010), 1 – 28.(full document)

Elementary Mathematics Specialists are placed in schools to construct leadership roles and to provide on-site professional development addressing mathematical content and pedagogy in order to enhance instruction and to improve student achievement.  A three-year, randomized, control study found that, over time, Specialists had a significant positive impact on student achievement in Grades 3, 4, and 5.  This effect on student achievement was not evident at the conclusion of the Specialist’s first year of placement.  It emerged as knowledgeable Specialists gained experience and as the schools’ instructional and administrative staffs learned and worked together.  Specialists who were highly engaged with a teacher significantly impacted those teachers’ beliefs about mathematics teaching and learning.  In addition, teachers in schools with a Specialist were more likely to participate in a non-coaching professional activity (attending mathematics-focused grade-level meetings, observing peers’ teaching, or attending schoolwide mathematics workshops).  The Specialists in this study had substantial programmatic responsibilities that influenced their amount of available time for coaching teachers.  Further, the Specialists in this study engaged in a high degree of professional coursework prior to and during at least their first year of placement.  Findings should not be generalized to Mathematics Specialists or coaches with less expertise.

 

Ellington, A., & Whitenack, J. (2010).  Fractions and the funky cookie. Teaching Children Mathematics, 16, 532 – 539.

With a pattern block configuration called the Funky Cookie, a Mathematics Specialist worked with a small group of 5th grade students on their understanding of fractional parts of a whole unit. We present the mathematics behind the Funky Cookie and explain how the Mathematics Specialist used it to assist the students in developing their understanding of this aspect of fractional relationships. With this example, we highlight the important work of Mathematics Specialists in K-5 school buildings. (full document)

 

Whitenack, J., & Ellington, A. (2009).  K-5 mathematics specialists’ teaching and learning about fractions.  The Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations, 11, 109 – 126. (full document)

This article describes the fraction-based activities of two teachers who were part of the MSP grant funded mathematics specialist preparation program.  Their work with fractions is traced from two perspectives: (1) their interactions with students as they struggle with fraction concepts and (2) their personal journeys to develop deeper understandings of fractions in a rational numbers course that is part of the degree program.  These stories provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the complex nature of the work of the specialist and the importance of a strong program to prepare them for their work.

 

Blount, D., & Singleton, J. (2008).  School division leaders keen on in-school mathematics experts.  The Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations, 10, 133 – 142. (full document)

The members of the policy team for the TPC grant project interviewed 12 school division policy leaders about the important role of mathematics specialists in their school divisions.  They discussed their reasons for wanting a specialist in their schools, the possibility of continuing to employ a specialist beyond the grant funding period, the program designed for training specialists, the possibility of expanding the program to other elementary and middle schools in the state.  The division policy leaders were very supportive of mathematics specialists and the important role they play in elementary school buildings.

 

Bount, D., & Singleton, J. (2007).  The role and impact of the mathematics specialist from the principal’s perspectives.  The Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations, 9, 69 – 77. (full document)

The members of the policy team for the TPC grant project interviewed 12 principals about the integration of mathematics specialists in their school building.  Through their conversations, several significant aspects of the mathematics specialist role in the school building emerged.  Specifically, the principal’s role in helping the specialist with her work, the types of activities the specialist engages in, the specialist’s role in teacher improvement and retention, and the specialist’s work with students in diverse populations, and the specialist involvement in activities for parents and other community members.   The principals were pleased with the work that specialists do and the impact they are having on all members of their buildings – students and teachers.

 

Whitenack, J., & Ellington, A. (2007). A Methodology to Explain Teachers’ Emerging Roles As K-5 Mathematics Specialists.  Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (full document)

This paper describes the emerging roles of two K-5 mathematics specialists who are or who will be serving in leadership roles at their respective school buildings.  One of the two teachers is a regular elementary classroom whereas the other teacher serves as a mathematics specialist in her school building.  Both of these individuals were participants in a case study research project conducted through the MSP grant project.   They also completed the degree program through the MSP project. The aim of this research study is to understand the participants’ induction processes in different settings as they become and/or continue to serve as mathematics specialists.  The mathematics specialist coaches teachers on a daily basis and is established as the resident expert on how children learn mathematics.  The classroom teacher designs her own opportunities to collaborate and co-teach with other teachers in her building.  While she is not the specialist for her building, she is someone that others turn to with questions related to curriculum and pedagogical issues.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux